Guardian survey shows huge concerns over workload with teachers in state schools at breaking point just as the government wants them to do more
Teachers, at breaking point trying to cope with the relentless exam and curriculum changes, already plan to leave the state system in record numbers, a Guardian survey has found, as the government calls for longer school days and more maths lessons.
In England 43% of the state school teachers polled said they were planning to leave the profession in the next five years. The survey shows that the staff recruitment and retention crisis, described by ministers as scaremongering, is a reality: 79% of schools say they are struggling to recruit or retain teachers and 88% predict things are going to get worse and that this will severely affect students.
Bureaucratic systems to record pupil progress and staff performance, plus a heavier burden of written marking to please Ofsted inspectors, are taking a toll on the health of the school workforce and prompting more to escape to schools in the independent sector or overseas, the survey finds.
Plans announced by the chancellor, George Osborne, last week will exacerbate the already serious retention and recruitment crisis in both academy and local authority schools, say teachers leaders. The government wants schools to stay open until 4.30 and is providing up to 285m for a quarter of secondaries to extend the school day, based on a bidding system. The budget also announced an inquiry into the feasibility of students continuing to study maths until age 18.
An analysis of the 4,450 responses to the survey, carried out by the Guardian teacher network and Guardian jobs, finds many teachers across England are at crisis point. Almost all 98% say they are under increasing pressure and 82% describe their workload as unmanageable. More than three-quarters are working between 49 and 65 hours a week. Nearly three-quarters 73% say their workload is having a serious impact on their physical health and 75% on their mental health. Only 12% say they have good work-life balance and only a third feel their employers consider their wellbeing.
I work 60 hours a week on average and still dont feel like Im doing a good enough job, says one teacher. If I want a life outside work I just get too exhausted.
I just want to do what I love without all the red tape and stress, says another.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), says the unions internal records confirm the Guardians findings: This is the worst time for teacher recruitment since 2003 when I took up this post, she says. We know 50,000 teachers left last year, thats 11% of the workforce, and we will have 300,000 more pupils in our schools by 2020. Its largely due to the toxic mix of accountability pressures, curriculum and qualification reform, compounded by mixed messages from the government.
Teachers say that even if schools received extra money to buy-in extra activities and lessons, staff would end up supervising and supporting them. We are in the midst of a teacher recruitment and retention crisis brought on in large part by a culture of unmanageable workload, says Julian Critchley, head of history at a London comprehensive. So the decision to promote an expectation of even longer hours is remarkably cloth-eared, even for a government that has repeatedly demonstrated its contempt for teachers.
Complaints about unmanageable workloads are remarkably consistent across state schools in England primary and secondary, academy, local authority and faith schools. However, teachers in Scotland, not as affected by the changes set in train by the Westminster government, are less likely to describe their workload as unmanageable and far less likely to be planning to leave: 22% as opposed to 43% in England.
The biggest generator of workload, say teachers, is constant change caused by government policy. The expansion of the amount of data teachers must collect and record for each pupil comes second, followed by the unfair pressure of being judged against unrealistic targets for pupil progress based on national data.
Two years ago the then education secretary, Michael Gove, pledged to push state schools so hard that they would be indistinguishable from the UKs best in the world independent schools.
But the survey shows a widening gulf between teacher morale in the two sectors, with teachers in independent schools much more likely to say they are happy in their work and much less likely to complain of unmanageable workloads.
Goves successor, Nicky Morgan, undertook a workload survey in October 2014, to which 40,000 teachers replied. Nothing changed, but she has acknowledged that teachers are overworked and last July set up three working groups on marking, lesson planning and pupil data, which are due to report in the next few weeks.
Duncan Baldwin, from the Association of School and College Leaders, says he hopes there will be meat in the reports but believes the government needs to turn attention to its own actions: There has been an unprecedented scale of reform that impacts on the classroom teacher. The curriculum has been changed in its entirety in primary schools, and secondary schools are coping with hurried changes to GCSE and A-levels and having to redo their curriculums and subject options as well.
Add to this the new high-stakes accountability, in particular the regime of Ofsted inspection, and the suppression of teacher pay and budget cuts and its no wonder so many teachers are deciding it is no longer for them.
Teachers who left the state sector to work in independent schools last year say they could no longer cope with the stress and workload. One, Michael Brownder*, for example, says the final straw was when the new head told staff to change all their video presentations to match the colours of the school logo so pupils would know where they were. So the teacher, whose lessons were always graded outstanding, left the 11-18 state school in a disadvantaged area of the north of England last year and very reluctantly moved to an independent school. Here, he says, he has regained his love of teaching. Five other science teachers also left, along with several more from different departments.
Gohar Avanesjan taught in London schools before joining St Nicholas Prep School in Knightsbridge last September: I always told myself that I wouldnt leave state schools because I wanted to help those who needed it most. But I was under so much stress my health was suffering and my family said it just couldnt go on. My classes were doing well, but if there was just one child who hadnt made the progress the data said he should have then I was a failure.
Class size is a big factor. I was teaching classes of 31, now I have 11. That makes a big difference but it isnt the main reason why I am much happier now. In the state schools I was coming to see children as data walking around, they no longer seemed human. Here the teachers are nurturing each individual child and developing them not just academically but as people. Youre doing everything for the sake of the child, not to tick a box for the school. Im treated as a professional, my opinions are listened to and I feel much more appreciated. Here you get thanks all the time, she says.
*The teachers name has been changed at his request
Visit our teacher network for more facts and figures from the Guardian survey plus the day-to-day impact on children of the current teacher shortage