A key difficulty is that we only officially work for 39 weeks a year - which doesn't elicit a lot of sympathy from the general public and media. A year's work - maybe more! - is squeezed into 3/4 of the time; as a consequence, in those weeks, the hours worked are often unsustainable.
Not for everyone, of course. Some people live to work (& to tweet), family pressures are less for many, whilst experience can lend a hand to more efficient working and management of time.
But what of the recruitment and retention crisis, our inability to hold on to teachers for more than the first few years, as well as the tens of thousands of experienced staff who are a drained, disillusioned, no longer enjoy many aspects of their job?
I was moved to raise the subject of time and workload by a number of related factors. The ongoing discussion in staff rooms and on Twitter regarding marking (as part of feedback) was one: What does good marking look like? What 'works'? How much time is spent on it?
The number of cars in the car park after 6pm when I was leaving my interim RI school earlier this year was quite alarming. In spite of my attempts to encourage staff home earlier, people felt more pressured by the external expectation of marking, etc than my attempts to persuade them otherwise. It is not unusual for staff across the country to be in school into the evening and I was speaking very recently to a Deputy in the pub who had come from school after 8pm (not an unusual occurrence for him).
And, of course, it's always been the case that teachers will work vast numbers of hours at home, whether they leave the school site early or late. To do the best for children, be 'professional' and have high expectations carries with it a moral stick to beat ourselves with and work endless hours.
Government and OFSTED will neither officially change the number of hours formally worked (and paid) to teachers, nor informally discuss a reasonable guideline to protect the well-being of the profession. It isn't in their interests to suggest that people work less: surely that would be lowering standards?
Those Heads who are, on balance, more concerned with OFSTED than staff well-being are complicit too. Rather than setting a work-life balance expectation - even producing a policy for it - many seem 'happy' (or unaware) to set not only high, but unrealistic, expectations and have people work all hours to try and fulfil them.
The result: an overwhelming sense of failure in the profession, waning love and enthusiasm for the job, swathes of disenchanted teachers leaving the profession after only a few years in it.
Some principles and possible pointers for a workload policy:
- Schools are, of course, all about children - but they are about adults too. The lives, education and development of adults working in schools need to be considered alongside that of children.
- We do children no favours by 'growing' teachers who are too tired, stressed, disillusioned, dis-empowered, unhappy and lacking enthusiasm to give of their best. (In fact, how many good teachers are no longer teaching, on their way out or put off from even applying?)
- We should be able to do a good - or better - job (by any reasonable definition) in working hours that allow a rewarding home-life, including interests beyond school.
- As a broad guide, teachers should (as a maximum) be working between 8am and 6pm from Monday to Friday: 10 hours per day, 50 hours per week during term time.
-Teachers may choose to work earlier or later - and occasionally at weekends - as other pressures, responsibilities and interests allow.
-In some weeks, and at some times of the year, hours may vary - longer or shorter but, overall, in balance.
- Schools should seek effective ways of managing high-workload tasks (ie. report writing, exam/essay marking), including outsourcing and increased not-contact time.
- Schools will need to better audit the use of time by teachers to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of tasks performed, particularly those which are most time intensive.
- If teachers are working beyond the guideline hours, we should ask: what's taking their time? is it useful & effective? could they be guided to carry out useful tasks more efficiently?
- Teachers and schools will need to take seriously the professional responsibility of determining which priorities and tasks should take precedence within the working hours guideline. (As an example, marking will need to be both manageable and effective, in light of contact time and the other work that is necessary).
- To do an effective job - and feel fulfilled in doing so - teachers need to prepare well during 'non-contact weeks'. Of the 13 weeks of 'holiday', it is suggested that teachers spend up to 3 weeks (15 days) planning and preparing, although this is for individuals to determine.
Other related questions:
- Where does (Primary) subject leadership fit in with a teacher's priorities and use of time? Are they 'responsible' or 'accountable' for (standards in) the subject? Does this depend on pay?
- Should those with more responsibilities/accountabilities work more hours? Is 50 hours a week a more than reasonable amount whether you are HT, SLT, TLR, NQT?
- HTs (& SLT) enjoy the greatest flexibility to manage their time and tasks. Are they sometimes guilty of creating additional tasks for others where the time involved to carry them out may outweigh the benefit?