Five years ago, when results from the TALIS 2013 survey were released, there was one thing that particularly caught the attention of education policymakers, unions and school leaders – teacher workload. This study revealed how lower-secondary teachers in England had one of the longest working weeks anywhere across the world.
This subsequently led to a huge policy effort by the Department for Education to reduce teachers’ workloads. Amongst other things, this included setting up numerous workload review groups, reducing the data burden being placed upon schools and publishing advice and guidance to school leaders about how teachers’ workloads could be reduced.
Today, results from the latest wave of the TALIS survey (conducted in 2018) has been released. This provides the first real opportunity, using genuinely comparable data, to consider whether the workload of teachers in this country has reduced over the five years since the TALIS 2013 report.
The answer, in short, is no.
Four key workload findings from TALIS 2018
First, there is no evidence that the average length of the working week of lower-secondary teachers has declined. For full-time, lower-secondary teachers the workload picture has remained broadly stable, with the average working week standing at 48 hours in 2013 and 49 hours in 2018.
Second, teachers in England continue to have a much longer working week than teachers in most other countries. Results from TALIS 2018 has illustrated, for the first time, that this holds true for both primary and lower-secondary staff (the TALIS 2013 survey in England focused upon lower-secondary teachers only). For instance, as Figure 1 illustrates, only in Japan do primary teachers work more hours per week.
Our national report also documents how average hours for lower-secondary teachers in England continue to be well above the OECD average (49 versus 41 hours per week).
Third, this is not being driven by teachers in England doing more teaching than their peers in other countries. As Figure 2 reveals, England is actually below the OECD average for the number of hours that lower-secondary teachers spend upon teaching per week (20.5 in England versus an OECD average of 21.5 hours per week).
Rather, teachers in England spend a lot more time upon “non-teaching” tasks. This is particularly true for the amount of time our lower-secondary teachers spend upon marking (6.3 hours per week in England compared to an OECD average of 4.3 hours per week) and administration (4.0 hours in England versus an OECD average of 2.6 hours per week).
Finally, as presented by Table 1, this has led to slightly more lower-secondary teachers in England reporting their workload to be unmanageable. In 2013, around 51% felt that this was the case, increasing to 57% in 2018.
What does this mean for education policy?
Now I doubt this will be the last that we hear about teacher workload. It is clearly an ongoing problem, and one which clearly needs renewed effort to address.
Yet these results do raise the issue of whether much more radical thinking is needed. Many of the initiatives currently in place are only likely to make differences at the margins, tinkering at the edges of what has become a major workload issue.
In reality, much bolder structural reforms may be needed – some of which sit at the heart of our education system – if real progress is to be made in reducing teachers’ workloads.