Do British teachers work 70-hour weeks?

This sounds like bollocks to me, even though I’ve heard similar claims:

I knew a guy who worked mergers and acquisition in an investment bank where he was doing 80 hours per week regularly, occasionally pushing towards 90. He’d find himself going to the office bathroom at 2am and, sat on the toilet, wondering what the hell he was doing there. He said 80 hour weeks are a killer, and unless you’re pretty focused on the money and your career you’ll burn out pretty fast. He didn’t last long, and chose to do something else.

I normally work 40 hours per week, I know plenty of people who work 50 and occasionally some who work 60. I’ve known guys work 70 or 80 hours per week in bursts, when a deadline is looming or during an offshore hook-up campaign, shutdown, or similar. Do I believe British teachers – who are heavily unionised state-employees – are working 70 hour-weeks as standard? No, I don’t. I don’t even believe they are working 70 hours per week in any given week.

Let’s assume this chap’s wife works from home on Saturday and pulls a 10-hour shift from 8am to 6pm. Unlikely, but let’s be charitable here. That leaves her with five 10-hour days during the week. Standard British school hours are on average 9am to 4pm – 7 hours – so let’s assume she gets to work at 8am and leaves at 6pm. That gives her three hours each day for lessons preparations and marking, plus whatever admin needs doing. Three hours per day, every day, is a lot of time – plus the 10 hours each Saturday.

You often hear complaints about teachers having to come up with lesson plans, but this sounds mainly like a first-year problem and, unless I’m badly missing something, they can be carried over to the next year taking into account only the modifications. One thing I’ve noticed about people who work long hours in the office is their administration and organisational skills are usually poor. The reason they take ages to do stuff is because they can’t recognise repeatable tasks and generate templates, and spend half their time reinventing the wheel or searching for information they’ve already found two or three times previously. Do teachers get hired for their admin skills? Probably not. If any teacher is working 70 hours per week out of which only half is spent teaching, I suspect their administration skills are too poor for the profession.

But hey, maybe I’m wrong? Maybe British teachers really are forced to work hours more familiar to day-rate contractors and investment bankers? If true, then it’s the schools’ management who are incompetent: any normal organisation would not require ordinary employees to work 70-hour weeks as standard, they’d get in extra bodies.

But this doesn’t pass the smell-test. I suspect the claims are exaggerated, and those doing the complaining lack the necessary skills to effectively manage what is probably a fairly ordinary admin workload (dealing with kids in the class is another issue entirely). If things were as bad as this, teachers would not be staunchly defending the state-education model nor the unions who insist it must be maintained. Sorry, but it’s bullshit and I expect this guy knows it.

Share

51 thoughts on “Do British teachers work 70-hour weeks?

  1. I suspect exaggeration, but I also wonder if the guy is being slightly disingenuous and counting commuting time, ie, the ’70-hour weeks’ are counted from the moment the wife leaves the house in the morning to the moment she arrives back in the evening. That could easily up the hour count by a couple every day.

  2. Of course it’s an exaggeration. They are famous for it.

    There are some pains to the job, particularly in poorly-run schools with a difficult pupil intake. I do know sensible people who have struggled with respect issues, and not being backed effectively by the school administration has made it an untenable job. For example, punishing teachers with disruption problems with poor reviews whilst failing to remove or deal with troublemaking pupils.

    But 70 hour weeks is plain nonsense (the odd individual exception with special circumstances perhaps).

    It is harder for the first couple of years as lesson plans are formulated and then refined. Remarkable really that there seems to be little economy of scale here, reinventing the wheel so many times, but I do sympathise that teaching to a template might be rather boring and not suitable for all.

    It’s simply not a 6 day a week job unless you take on sports responsibilities perhaps. It’s certainly not a 47 weeks a year job, like most of us do.

    Marking can be a drag, but something is wrong if you are spending 20hrs on that, even as an English teacher.

    The reporting burden is genuinely a bit ridiculous though, something that I think is underestimated from the outside. I’d be developing a tick-box or code system pretty sharpish, and frankly rushing through it as I doubt it gets used anywhere except as evidence for ofsted inspections.

    Ultimately a lot of the complaining you hear is a bit like the poverty porn stories in the Guardian. It sounds bad until you look into the details and realise there are half-truths, missing information and a lack of effectiveness all wrapped up in it.

  3. There are some pains to the job, particularly in poorly-run schools with a difficult pupil intake. I do know sensible people who have struggled with respect issues, and not being backed effectively by the school administration has made it an untenable job. For example, punishing teachers with disruption problems with poor reviews whilst failing to remove or deal with troublemaking pupils.

    This I can believe.

    Ultimately a lot of the complaining you hear is a bit like the poverty porn stories in the Guardian. It sounds bad until you look into the details and realise there are half-truths, missing information and a lack of effectiveness all wrapped up in it.

    That would be my guess, too. For one thing, if teachers could demonstrate 3-5 years in such conditions as they are claiming they’d be invaluable to a private sector organisation and would be being snapped up.

  4. I worked as a secondary teacher in the UK, so a few comments:

    1) In my NQT year I typically arrived at school around 8 to print stuff or other prep, taught around 5 hours a day and did maybe 3-4 hours prep in the evenings. At weekends I’d try and have a day free and spend the other doing prep and marking, so I’d say I did an average of around 60 hours a week, maybe more if was a busy period such as exams, ofstead, parents evenings or or any other crap. Also I probably didn’t do enough work (I got hopelessly behind in marking students books and gave up by the end), so I can believe people do a 70 hour week.

    2) yes you can reuse materials the following year if teach exactly the same classes, which never exactly happens (even having two in the Sam eye at can’t be a help- I had top and bottoms sets in year 8 so was very little in common in their lessons. Also I never taught year 9’s so had to start from scratch when I did so later on. Plus when you add in how the curriculum was being rewritten constantly there was a lot of changes every year.

    Personally I could hack it, that’s why I teach ESL now (no prep or marking outside of working hours and behaviour is light years ahead!)

  5. ‘Marking can be a drag, but something is wrong if you are spending 20hrs on that, even as an English teacher.’

    Try marking 60 mock GCSE papers, believe me that can take a whole day!

  6. Andy in Japan,

    I’ll defer to your better knowledge and I do trust you’re not talking shite, which at least gives me more confidence this guy I quoted isn’t either. But:

    yes you can reuse materials the following year if teach exactly the same classes

    Well, for my entire career I’ve produced reports, procedures, estimations, calculations, proposals, contracts, schedules, budgets, and Lord-knows how many other documents related to my work. I’ve stuck to the same industry, but traveled between wildly different parts of it, and every project and scenario is different.

    But at the same time, there are huge similarities. The *purpose* of these documents is broadly the same, regardless of project or context. Often the structure is very similar. Almost every engineer I’ve worked with has, when faced with preparing a document, got hold of a previous one that best matches it and modified it. More crucially, once you’ve prepared 4 or 5 reports/budgets/proposals/schedules in your career you’ve learned the shortcuts, you know the structure, and you can knock them out quickly. In fact, this is pretty much what most engineers do as job: produce documents quickly and accurately. This is absolutely standard practice in my industry and we’re expected to be good at it, and I assume this is true for most industries.

    What I find amazing is teachers don’t seem to have learned this skill, nor show any signs they want to. A lesson plan is still a lesson plan, regardless of subject; nobody’s asking a teacher to change a lesson plan into a bending moment diagram or process flow calculation. This might be my arrogance talking (I have it in abundance) but I reckon I could get an admin burden like lesson plans down to a T after my second year and knock them out in a matter of hours after being told what the new one should look like.

    No offence here BTW, I’m just trying to get to the bottom of this.

  7. “The *purpose* of these documents is broadly the same, regardless of project or context.”

    Back in the day, I used to be stickler for the Lionel Stebbing procedure template, Bechtel introduced them to Australia and most of the big oil and gas firms adopted them. Still work to this day as well.

    I have some wider family in the teaching sector in Oz and have noticed that they do constantly take a lot of work home with them. I think teaching is a very important but underpaid job because of this, but I am a bit of Bread Head.

  8. I never work less than 40 hours a week, and have clocked up 70 hours upon occasion. One such occasion lasted for four months, and I was in that pushy/ambitious/”give me a shot and I’ll repay your faith many times over” stage of my career.

    When it was over, I only realised how damaging working from 9-2am every day (bar Friday evenings) for weeks on end was. I seriously doubt that a school could cope with an individual working those hours- someone would intervene after a week tops, as they had some kind of breakdown in the carpark. Sure, if you are onsite on an oilrig or something (where there’s fuck all else to do) you could get close to 70 hours regularly. In an office it may be possible, if the cleaners don’t turf you out. At a school, standing in front of kids for 5 hours a day plus back office? Not a hope.

  9. Sure, if you are onsite on an oilrig or something (where there’s fuck all else to do) you could get close to 70 hours regularly.

    Yeah, rig-workers do 12-hour shifts which extend to 14 or 16 by the time you’ve done a handover. But crucially, they work for 28 days and then have 28 days off (it’s even more generous some places) to compensate. Occasionally the majors will get wind of some poor sod on a contractor’s vessel who’s been working 3 months like that without a break and go bananas: that’s how accidents happen.

    And of course, on a rig you have all food and board taken care of, and the commute is easy.

  10. Tim N, re your Perhaps Related link: well he is from Merseyside. The shock of having a job would send him into meltdown.

  11. “But crucially, they work for 28 days and then have 28 days off (it’s even more generous some places) to compensate.”

    Plenty of sites that I have worked on can be seven weeks on nine days off on that roster. I wasn’t stuck on site or doing those hours but they are not uncommon.

  12. @Tim, “What I find amazing is teachers don’t seem to have learned this skill, nor show any signs they want to. A lesson plan is still a lesson plan, regardless of subject; nobody’s asking a teacher to change a lesson plan into a bending moment diagram or process flow calculation. This might be my arrogance talking (I have it in abundance) but I reckon I could get an admin burden like lesson plans down to a T after my second year and knock them out in a matter of hours after being told what the new one should look like.”

    You and me both are *such* engineers 🙂 That’s exactly how I’d approach it too.

    Yes, that’s the engineering mindset right there, the kind of thing I apply in my everyday work too – like you, producing accurate, timely, explanatory documents, but in a different context 😉 I have my methodology, I turn the handle, and out comes the document at the end. It means that, even if I’m pushed cos the client has screwed up and needs the work yesterday, I can produce a competent document in half the time it would take to make a really good one, with minimum brain input: just by application of best practices, in a hurry.

    Back to teaching. My father was a biology teacher in a boarding school – easily 70 hour weeks, but that was with all the other guff surrounding teaching that is expected in a boarding school (pastoral care, presence in a boarding house, CCF, sports, etc). And massive holidays to compensate.

    He’s not got an engineering mindset (and I like to jibe him that biology is hardly even a science, what with it being dominated by writing essays and all that), but he got the lesson plan things down to a T, even without an explicitly engineering-style approach.

    I can see how an “arts” grad who doesn’t think systematically and linearly would struggle and would end up re-inventing the wheel each time, to which I say: suck it up, snowflake. Learn how to put a system in place so that you can crank the handle on it and out will come the lesson-plan sausage.

  13. Plenty of sites that I have worked on can be seven weeks on nine days off on that roster.

    I’ve not seen any. Guys on Sakhalin did 11 weeks on/2 weeks off, but they were 6-day weeks onshore (Sundays off). Although when you get down to the Third-Country Nationals and their working conditions, God knows what their schedules are.

  14. Learn how to put a system in place so that you can crank the handle on it and out will come the lesson-plan sausage.

    Exactly. And perhaps, if the admin burden on teachers is so great, this is what they should be trained to do or recruited for having such skills already. The bottom line is that it appears teachers’ work has become as much about admin and organisation as it has teaching, and teachers who lack these skills are struggling. There are two solutions: reduce the admin burden, which probably means removing the state; and replace teachers with ones with better admin skills. Which one are teachers calling for, and which do their unions support?

  15. If only there was a way for searching for survey where this question was asked, perhaps yearly, from a sample population of teachers.

    Like this one

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/592499/TWS_2016_FINAL_Research_report_Feb_2017.pdf

    From the report

    The average total, self-reported working hours in the reference week 3 for all classroom teachers and middle leaders was 54.4 hours. As per prior workload studies, primary classroom teachers and middle leaders self-reported higher total working hours (a mean of 55.5 hours) than teachers in secondary schools (53.5 hours)

    Secondary school senior leaders reported longer total working hours than those in primary schools (62.1 hours compared to 59.8). Across all schools, senior leaders reported an average total of 60.0 hours in the reference week.

    Almost a third of part-time teachers reported that 40% of their total hours were worked outside of school hours.

    From the BBC
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-27087942

    So not far off for secondary, given that is the average

  16. It’s total rubbish – my friend who’s a geography teacher in a Grammar School in kent regularly comes out with this sort of nonsense –
    even though she’s personnally refurbished her house and run 2 side (evening) businesses throughout the time I’ve known her.

  17. Phil,

    So a survey which asks teachers to honestly say how many hours they are working outside of official, supervised hours (much of which will be at home) turns up an average of around 55-60 hours per week total hours worked.

    That’s much more like it, thanks!

  18. Its only an average though, to get that average you will have to have teachers like the one in your tweet who work more than that.

    Still an average of 10 hr days with another 5hrs on the weekend for pretty average pay. No thanks!

  19. “Although when you get down to the Third-Country Nationals and their working conditions, God knows what their schedules are.”

    True and they are so grateful to have a job its amazing, we have plenty of Indian staff in the Mideast that work 12 hour shifts (although shorter in mid summer) six days a week for 11 months then a months leave back home. A lot of them work their months leave for the extra money and take their break every second year, so that’s 23 months on, one off. They stay in camps with four in two bunk beds in each cabin. We never have any absenteeism due to drinking, no fighting or major disruptions due to them either.

    Just looked at my average week which would be 7-5ish Monday to Friday, say 1.5hrs overseas calls and meetings each night or early in the morning before 6am and about 2-3 hrs overseas stuff on a weekend.

    So about 60 hours and that’s enough for me these days.

  20. My mother kept my school reports from Primary School. I was in a class of 45. There was also a lower stream of the same size. I don’t know whether the head teacher was responsible only for 5 x 90 = 450 pupils or whether he was also responsible for the Infants’ Section, another 2 x 90 = 180 pupils.

    The head teacher taught an ordinary class just like the other teachers. He did his head-ing after we, and they, went home. His assistants consisted of a secretary and a janitor.

    I can only suppose that the huge hours that teachers now purportedly put in must be the explanation of the hugely improved standards in our schools.

  21. To echo Andy, it doesn’t work out that you are teaching the same stuff to the same pupils every year, so lesson plans do have to be done continously. (In Thailand lesson plans are based on workbooks and workbooks change every year.) Secondly, a mate of mine’s wife is a teacher and she brings home milk crates of marking most nights. I’m sure some have it easy, but some really don’t.

  22. 70 hour weeks. Pah! Try running your own business. And not 70 hours spent in a warm dry office or classroom. Try 70 hours of mostly on your feet with episodes of hard physical effort in either sub-zero or sweltering conditions, wind rain & snow.
    Pussies.

  23. Its only an average though, to get that average you will have to have teachers like the one in your tweet who work more than that.

    I think we ought to allow a certain percentage for bullshit in the self-reported figures, though.

  24. Secondly, a mate of mine’s wife is a teacher and she brings home milk crates of marking most nights.

    Marking does sound like a right pain in the arse and I remember teachers in my day complaining about it. But then again, they didn’t take it that seriously either with a few of them admitting they just skimmed through stuff with a glass of wine. It’s not something that can be easily automated in crank-handle fashion either, but then again it’s nothing new.

  25. Tim/Abcab, when I went into teaching (haviong previoulsy worked in the pharma industry) I also thought lessons could be ‘just cranked out’. However is not that simple. These days a lesson plan isn’t just a sheet of paper with what you are going to do; its powerpoints, worksheets (different types maybe based on the classes ability), video clips, extra stuff for the SEN/EAL/GT kids and if you’re doing science like I did its demonstrations (which need to be rehursed first), pratcial methods/risk assessments and god knows what else I’ve forgotten.

    Best piece of advice I was given when training was that you shouldn’t spend longer preparing anything than the kids will spend doing it, but is hard to stick to at first (I remember spending an hour one time making cards for an activity that lasted 5 minutes- I never did that again!)

    I agree with the points made that an experianced teacher shouldn’t be working 70 hours a week unless a very hands on member of senior staff, but us newbies definitly did the hours, which were exacibated by all the extra stuff you have to do when training/newly qualified. (Just for fun, have a look at the teaching standards which you have to document in detail that you’ve met- https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/283566/Teachers_standard_information.pdf)

  26. Just for fun, have a look at the teaching standards which you have to document in detail that you’ve met-

    Okay, line 1:

    Teachers make the education of their pupils their first concern, and are accountable for achieving the highest possible standards in work and conduct.

    How many fail at this first hurdle? In fact, what happens if you don’t bother following these rules at all? Does anyone get sacked for poor performance?

  27. Of course teachers writing lots of lesson plans use template documents! Even disorganised arty ones. The thing you’re missing is that the planning itself takes time. You need to actually think, pedagogically, about the order you are going to teach things and the way you are going to break the concepts down. What prerequisite knowledge might you need to recap. What exactly is going to get put on the board (more on this later). What knowledge you expect kids at different parts of the ability range to exit the lesson with. What parts of what they need to learn do you need them to copy down in their books (key definitions etc) vs which parts is it sufficient to discuss orally. What questions you are going to ask as class questions, and what exercises you are going to set them to reinforce their knowledge. If your class have a textbook, what pages and what questions from it are they going to do. If you’re working in a department which doesn’t use textbooks (some heads of departments just don’t like the available books, sometimes, eg at an FE college this happens very frequently, you can be teaching a course there simply isn’t a textbook for) you need to write the question/exercises yourself. That’s surprisingly hard, incidentally, particularly if you want questions which are accessible to all the kids to start with but you need to add some extra twists to make the top end of the class actually have to engage brain a bit.

    Filling in the forms isn’t just a boring form-filling exercise. It’s the careful design and planning of lessons which takes time. If you’re lucky you can work in a place that only requires written plans for eg 25% of lessons, and if you’re someone like me you’ll try to get away with committing as little to paper as possible (especially once you realise how little reusability it has) but other people are sticklers who make a rod for their own backs and the unlucky few have bosses who demand written plans for everything. Personally I was quite happy to walk into a room and largely ad lib, but I’d have a mental plan for the timings and would have looked up page references, printed off sheets and so on. The most unlucky people had to produce thorough plans that contained something approaching a word-for-word script plus detailed diagrams of everything they expected to write on the whiteboard.

    Which brings me to the one thing that takes longer than marking. The invention of the whiteboard projector and the infliction of PowerPoint (or education specific board software). This was a game changer and it was lethal. There are now kids subjected to five hours of PowerPoint slides per day – appalling, it must be like sitting through those HR meetings for seven years of school life. Worse still, there are people writing hours of slides per day. And these things take far far longer to write than they do to present. It is the desired endpoint for those bosses who insisted on everything to be written on the board being planned in advance, they loved it. Some departments bought in PowerPoint packs pre-prepared by the big educational publishers, often which sync with the textbooks. In some departments this kind of thing was not possible or a management decision was made against it. But you could still be told to write up the slides for everything you were going to do (otherwise you’d be guilty of “failing to use technology appropriately”, marking you out as a fogey to be replaced by a fresh-faced IT-savvy nice cheap NQT ASAP).

    Teachers in a supportive environment with minimal additional admin afflicted, who did not foolishly take on extra management responsibilities, who planned ahead in a paperwork-averse way with most of the focus on reusability, who were allowed to work mainly from a textbook and who tracked down existing worksheets and handouts rather than make up their own, and who were allowed to be judicious in their marking (use peer-marking for class exercises and basic multiple-choice homework, check books are up-to-date once per half-term or so, set computer-marked homework where possible, only focus on hand-marking in detail for essays, mock papers and major class tests) could have a very manageable work-week, 45 hours or less.

    Those who get unlucky, 70 hours is indeed possible. One guy I know ended up doing more like 80 – having some technical knowledge, he got landed with creating the department’s Virtual Learning Environment for A-level, effectively meant writing a kind of interactive textbook. Writing interactive resources is even more time-consuming than writing slides and worksheets and reports.

    I’m well out of my teaching/lecturing career, personally, and I think more people who moan about how much they hate it and how unmanageable it is should go do something more profitable too. There are managers who inflict 60-hour workweeks on their staff and they’ll get away with it for as long as the staff put up with it. Lots of stuff like the planning can be bought in (textbook series often come with lesson plans in the teaching material), as can some of the marking if you’re lucky enough to teach a subject where homework is amenable for computerisation (even in English this is possible for spelling tests, comprehension tests, definition recall etc and commercial online homework providers exist). That material is often better than what teachers can produce themselves – the poor sod doing 80 hours a week was basically duplicating Khan Academy but doing it worse, all because the college had some vain hopes of using his material as a USP to attract new students and maybe selling it to other learning providers.

  28. The thing you’re missing is that the planning itself takes time. You need to actually think, pedagogically, about the order you are going to teach things and the way you are going to break the concepts down. What prerequisite knowledge might you need to recap. What exactly is going to get put on the board (more on this later). What knowledge you expect kids at different parts of the ability range to exit the lesson with. What parts of what they need to learn do you need them to copy down in their books (key definitions etc) vs which parts is it sufficient to discuss orally. What questions you are going to ask as class questions, and what exercises you are going to set them to reinforce their knowledge.

    But I get back to my original point: this is true for *any* profession and the first few years are spent learning this and doing it the hard way, but thereafter you have the knowledge, experience – and above all, practice – to do this much faster. When you’re young you have the time and energy to get your head around this crap, when older you have the experience so you don’t have to. I don’t understand what is so different about teaching, other than perhaps the mentality and expectations of those who go into it.

    Worse still, there are people writing hours of slides per day. And these things take far far longer to write than they do to present.

    Really? Most people I work with can knock these out in minutes (they have to: French presentations must be a minimum of 75 slides long, plus backup slides). You get good at this stuff with practice, and you can copy and paste from previous presentations. Don’t mid-career teachers have all of this done already, stored handily on a hard-drive?

  29. Balls, Andy beat me to it. But he is right. I work more hours doing my own business but because it is “mine” and I feel ownership of it – and I know I’m not doing unnecessary grind just because my manager wants me to – I don’t mind so much.

    “How many fail at this first hurdle? In fact, what happens if you don’t bother following these rules at all? Does anyone get sacked for poor performance?”

    Folk get sacked but a lot more just get out of it before the moment strikes. And for a lot of the folk I’ve seen sacked, the deciding issue was more their disposability and the way they didn’t fit with the management’s vision, rather than their competence at the Teaching Standards. If you want a bit of insight into why the QTS and NQT years are a complete pain in the ass, imagine chasing around senior staff to fill in and sign off paperwork (usually accompanied by a “relevant” lesson plan, resource, photocopied piece of marking, personal reflection journal and/or observation report) so you can stick it in your Evidence Folder, then write a cross-reference to it on your List of Standards so you can claim that Standard has been fulfilled this term. Particularly bearing in mind how wishy-washily the Standards are defined, you can end up waving around reams of paper to “evidence” that you’ve met them. The whole thing is a paperwork nightmare of the first order, I’d far rather they just stuck to “passed lesson observations successfully, kids still passed exams” as the criteria. The ability to compile the paperwork in a folder says far more about hoop-jumping skills and organisational ability, than competence as a teacher.

  30. The ability to compile the paperwork in a folder says far more about hoop-jumping skills and organisational ability, than competence as a teacher.

    Yes, and that this is the main requirement of a teacher is becoming increasingly apparent as this thread progresses!

  31. Really? Most people I work with can knock these out in minutes (they have to: French presentations must be a minimum of 75 slides long, plus backup slides). You get good at this stuff with practice, and you can copy and paste from previous presentations. Don’t mid-career teachers have all of this done already, stored handily on a hard-drive?

    If you don’t move school, the department doesn’t change exam board or textbook series, the curriculum isn’t rewritten or you’re not asked to teach a completely different subject (which happens surprisingly often) then the mid-career teacher has a much easier time of things. Probably worse in FE and primary than in secondary school, because you’re usually required to teach more subjects so are more exposed to change. But nobody in education is completely immune. That “if” in the first sentence was doing an awful lot of work.

    Ability to reuse slides is variable. If you’re a GCSE History teacher and your board has switched from the Industrial Revolution to 20th century US history, you’re utterly out of luck. English literature boards change set texts and that wreaks havoc too. If you’re a maths teacher, change is likely smaller and copy-and-paste are your best friends. Some subjects are more in the middle. Even GCSE Science can be surprisingly variable between syllabus revisions, because the topics and applications they pick out to focus on can change radically even if the underlying basic science has hardly moved on.

  32. If you don’t move school, the department doesn’t change exam board or textbook series, the curriculum isn’t rewritten or you’re not asked to teach a completely different subject (which happens surprisingly often) then the mid-career teacher has a much easier time of things.

    But this can’t be much different from an engineer moving company and switching from an onshore infrastructure project to an offshore production one. The underlying principles will be much the same, even if the content has changed.

    Ability to reuse slides is variable. If you’re a GCSE History teacher and your board has switched from the Industrial Revolution to 20th century US history, you’re utterly out of luck. English literature boards change set texts and that wreaks havoc too. If you’re a maths teacher, change is likely smaller and copy-and-paste are your best friends.

    Okay, but this is content, not form. The presentations I do differ wildly in topic and content, but they generally follow a certain form. And how often do these things get changed each week? I can believe this crap can eat up 70 hours for a few weeks a year, but every week all year? Something’s wrong here.

    If things are this bad and teachers are struggling so much, is there any scope for subcontracting it? Most of this sounds like basic admin, as no ex-teacher set up a company which can do all this using cheap admins on behalf of teachers?

  33. “The thing you’re missing is that the planning itself takes time. You need to actually think, pedagogically, about the order you are going to teach things and the way you are going to break the concepts down…..yadda, yadda, yadda etc”

    You bill this at hourly rates?

    Teaching’s supposed to be a career, isn’t? Career with the big C we’re always being told. Most of us with careers, small or big C, regard our careers as essentially being our life. There isn’t an hour in the day when we’re not thinking about aspects of it. Come to think of it, there’s even a certain amount occuring when we’re asleep. This is the stuff gets done when we’re on the bog, having a shit. Cooking & eating dinner. Stuck in traffic. There’s no work thinking time & personal thinking time. There’s just time.
    Or is teaching not actually a career, large or small C? Just hourly paid, semi-skilled labour?

  34. What My Burning Ears said in spades.

    “And how often do these things get changed each week?”
    Well in the last few years the Specifications have changed due to Goves’ reforms. Plus you need to bear in mind that each lesson will be very different as you progress thought he course. Just for interest have a look at the latest GCSE science specs (from one of the three different exam boards):

    http://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/science/gcse

    Note how many different options there are, you many have a class doing double science, another doing triple science (1/3 of which will not be taught to the first class0 and if you’re really unlucky like I’ve been another doing Btec.

    ‘is there any scope for subcontracting it?’
    Well there are schemes of work that can be bought in but they still often need lots of tweaking (don’t get me started on Collins KS3- one of the worst SoW I ever saw!)

    For comparison, at my current ESL job I get the Teachers book out before the lesson, read though and just work through with the class. Kids lessons need a bit more prep (sometimes copying worksheets, finding flash cards/ props etc), but I can get all my prep done in the first half hour of the day

  35. Many years ago I had a stint teaching in a secondary school (it was a scheme to get science grads into teaching*) and from what I saw your suspicions are correct.

    I saw some teachers complaining about hours and workload, but these were also the same faces you saw spending their “free” periods (which the school allocated to all teachers to get paperwork/marking done) in the staff room chatting and gossiping. As far as I could find out none of them had any other career before teaching. The best teacher there was a science teacher who was an engineer until he changed career at 30. He was not only the best teacher in the classroom, imo, but also the happiest in the job. He got all his paperwork done without having to work every evening and weekends and considered the job to be relatively easy.

    Like you, I suspect that’s because he picked up organisational, “cranking out routine tasks to a decent enough standard”, skills in industry which the other teachers didn’t have.

    *I should add that as this was a scheme to convince science grads to go into teaching we were probably placed into the better run schools with nicer students.

  36. Note how many different options there are, you many have a class doing double science, another doing triple science (1/3 of which will not be taught to the first class0 and if you’re really unlucky like I’ve been another doing Btec.

    Seems to me as though the entire teaching profession could do with all these lesson plans being provided by a third party, slides and all. That would free up the teachers’ time considerably, I’d have thought.

  37. If things are this bad and teachers are struggling so much, is there any scope for subcontracting it? Most of this sounds like basic admin, as no ex-teacher set up a company which can do all this using cheap admins on behalf of teachers?

    Yep, this is out there at several levels. But you have to disabuse yourself of the notion that “lesson planning” is unskilled admin work, it is part of the craft and something you’re trained for. The very substance of the job isn’t just the time you’re physically in front of students, but how you apply your professional expertise to the behind-the-scenes work necessary for the class time to be effective. (Even something as mundane as slide-writing: what details belong on the slide and what don’t? How to integrate slides with classroom discussion and activities? There’s various pedagogical bits about slide design, accessibility to kids who speak English as an Additional Language or who have dyslexia, various exam expert bits about judging which aspects are more likely to be examined by the board and trying to focus kids’ attention on those parts.)

    But this stuff van be prepared in advance and in bulk, by trained teachers. You can buy in sets of slides. You can buy in video content. You can buy in worksheet packs, which are a pain to write on your own.

    It goes further. You can buy in computer-marked online homework. Even Virtual Learning Environments that contain online lessons and give students customised feedback.

    You can buy in external marking of mock papers, though schools often prefer to do this in-house so they can see for themselves what topics need more work. If you get someone else to mark it, you end up having to read the papers through anyway to find out where the problems were. (Though external marking companies will give you a report on this.)

    There are even services out there for outsourcing marking of written homework – though this is rare for similar reasons to above. There was a bit of a buzz going round in FE a while back about this – some research showed that planning time was more effective than marking time, so marking at some colleges was subcontracted out (mostly to retired teachers) so staff could be given more planning time. Not sure whether that system has survived anywhere given the funding squeeze or changes in management since.

    So yes you can subcontract a lot out these days – not all of it has taken off, though online homework has definitely become pretty standard. But some places seem to take professional or managerial pride in not contracting out – I worked in a department that refused even to purchase textbooks because they felt it was more effective if we prepared custom material for our classes. It meant we were effectively writing a textbook as we went along – for each class! That way madness lies.

    I think it is a thorny problem with no single solution. Telling teachers to grow up and be more organised isn’t quite it – even within the same department, different (experienced) teachers work very different hours and while this was partly a function of organisational skill, it depended an awful lot on their luck with class allocations (same stuff year in, year out is a huge boost) and how conscientious they were too. But there could also be big differences between departments – extra-curricular stuff for PE, drama, music (PE teachers now have to mark a lot of written work so this is no longer even a tradeoff for them getting out of marking!), anybody working in a subject that’s just had a major syllabus change or where the school has changed boards, and managerial approaches to sharing or buying in resources.

    There’s generally too much paperwork (because paperwork protects backsides). Management often don’t buy in resources or contract out where possible. And it is true that at least some teachers are being asked to do too many hours of contact time with students, for them to be able to do planning and marking within a reasonable time per week – apparently in international comparisons to some of our educational superiors, British teachers seem to spend too long in class and not enough time planning (especially planning collaboratively, which might cut out a lot of duplication) or receiving high quality ongoing training (teacher-training days often being a complete waste of time here).

    When I worked in FE I was contracted to deliver almost 30 hours of lectures per week (longer than in schools because teaching hours had day classes running from 9 til 6, or 1 on Saturdays, and night classes 630-830) in ten different and largely unrelated subjects (which changed from year to year) and very few parallel classes (I could reuse material from an adult learners’ night class and the equivalent day class, but rarely was that synergy available). I was spared some of those lecturing hours because I was an assessor/verifier for other courses, and for each hour of lectures dropped you had to do 1.5 hours of assessing (logic being you didn’t need the 0.5 hours prep time for the lecture you weren’t delivering). I’m not denying at all that folk in other industries have to work far harder, in far worse conditions, often for far worse pay. But there really was no way I could have completed the admin, planning and marking for my lecturing hours within the 10 hours or so that I was theoretically allocated for them if you believed the number of working hours in my contract. For one course, just marking a single compulsory assignment took up the entire year’s worth of theoretical out-of-classroom time for that course.

    The contractual timings were simply wrong. Like everyone else, I ended up working rather longer than the contract said, but I tried to be minimally masochistic about it. There’s always someone in the office who grouches about how many extra hours they’ve endured in a way that conflates their personal cross with a badge of misplaced honour. I wasn’t such a stickler for self-punishment so did as little as I could get away with, but it was still punishing and the nominal contractual hours were simply out of whack with reality.

    Incidentally, if occupational health research starts to indicate long hours of work are associated with greater rates of stress-based illness and reduced life expectancy, teachers’ employing organisations ought to have serious legal alarm bells going off. Amongst others. (Similarly, given all we know now about the adverse effects of hiring someone on night shifts, I’d be very wary of hiring someone on nights long-term.) I suspect giving someone a work schedule that can only possibly be done in 50+ hours, regardless of the contracted times and working hours laws, could end up exposing employers to serious liability if doctors announce there’s a “stress-related epidemic” about.

  38. “Seems to me as though the entire teaching profession could do with all these lesson plans being provided by a third party, slides and all. That would free up the teachers’ time considerably, I’d have thought.”

    Well, quite. Wouldn’t a Union be a good sort of organisation to take this on for its members? Surely 10-20 extra hours of free time per week is worth more than a 2.5% pay rise?

    And if an exam board or a government department changes content, they should be required to produce the new Scheme of Work to teach to. That might make them think twice about whether the change is necessary. Currently, making masses of extra work for others doesn’t affect them at all.

    Of course, individuals will want to tweak some lesson plans. But, in the main, we have a National Curriculum being taught much the same by thousands of teachers in hundreds of schools. Much duplicated effort is happening to no-one’s benefit.

  39. Thanks, MyBurningEars. Most insightful!

    Yep, this is out there at several levels. But you have to disabuse yourself of the notion that “lesson planning” is unskilled admin work, it is part of the craft and something you’re trained for.

    Sure, I never thought differently.

  40. Jack Hughes,

    Good points, especially:

    But, in the main, we have a National Curriculum being taught much the same by thousands of teachers in hundreds of schools.

    That thought had occurred to me also.

  41. And if an exam board or a government department changes content, they should be required to produce the new Scheme of Work to teach to. That might make them think twice about whether the change is necessary.

    I quite liked the underlying philosophy of the Gove reforms, but if you want to understand the contempt that most teachers hold him in …

    GCSEs are normally taught as a two-year course across Years 10 and 11. By the time that a syllabus and model exam papers were agreed for some of his radically reformed GCSEs, the first cohort to take them were already midway through Year 10. Textbooks and a proper scheme of work had to come later. There had been some draft syllabuses put in place, so teachers had a rough idea of what to aim for, but Ofqual (the body that governs qualifications) threw them out for some subjects and they ended up being drastically rewritten.

    A properly planned change, with materials prepared and training given well in advance, would have been disruptive but fair game. Ideally there would have been time to change around the teaching in Years 7 to 9 to match the new GCSE they were working towards. With the necessary consultations and so on, it would have to take place over the kind of decadal timescale that is beyond the working horizon of politicians. This kind of mess – while I count myself lucky to have dodged this one, having got out during the New Labour years, I can think of plenty of equivalents that struck in my time – is one of the reasons I would rarely recommend teaching as a career.

    It seems that teachers have uninvented the blackboard and the book. To what end?

    When I was at school, I would just copy down the notes the teacher had chalked up on the board, that they themselves had copied off a sheet of paper in their folder that they almost certainly wrote up during their qualifying year, decades ago. Then we’d do whatever exercises were called out from the textbook. It seems to me that it did me very little harm, and it must have made those teachers’ lives a hundred times easier. I was shocked by the difference between what teaching methods were acceptable when I was at school, compared to when I was a teacher myself – at least three quarters of my teachers, had they stuck to their mould, would have been judged “inadequate” under the newfangled expectations.

  42. And if anyone thinks that chalk on a blackboard is too boring to “engage” kids, what kind of miracle do they think PowerPointing them to death is going to work instead?

  43. Tim Newman

    “Seems to me as though the entire teaching profession could do with all these lesson plans being provided by a third party, slides and all. That would free up the teachers’ time considerably, I’d have thought.”

    I’m amazed there isn’t a service for this that achieves a cookie-cutter, 80% service that just needs to be tuned. I used a similar service in the UK to create site H&S plans, they included everything required and all we usually needed to do was add in some site specific info or requirements. Cost a couple of hundred quid a pop. Creating that from scratch would have cost ten grand.

    Collectively, if teachers really are spending, say, 20hrs a week on this, then your talking about, maybe, 8 million hours a week spent on this stuff…..is the education improved by this amount of effort?

  44. is the education improved by this amount of effort?

    This is the million dollar question. All of the teachers I’ve ever known spend zero time whatsoever on efficiency, preferring instead to do everything by hand, every year. In all fairness, this is due to board standards designed to make it impossible for them to automate: for instance, they are required to compose an individual comment for each subject for each student on each report card, every time.

    The other thing I’ve noticed is that around here, the prevailing pedagogies tend to rotate in and out of fashion every 5-10 years or so. When I asked one of my teacher friends whether this indicated that none of the pedagogies was any better than any other – since if one were clearly superior they’d just stick with it – I got a glare and a rapid change of subject.

    I honestly think the issue is that although there’s some convincing evidence of what does work in the general case (sex-segregated schools, drills and emphasis on the basics, less “child-centered” learning and more adherence to a structured curriculum, evaluating teachers on their ability to teach effectively, etc.) it’s debatable whether the Prussian approach is really ideal for non-industrialized society.

    The solution, as it almost always is, is to stop thinking of basic education as a societal good and allow parents to decide what kind of schools to send their children to. Let the market figure out what works best.

  45. My English teacher used to complain about working 18 hour days. I think he was just as full of shit.

    Rip it all up and start again, I’d say. The education system is designed (1) to instil a certain minimal level of literacy, numeracy and obedience in children, (2) to acclimate them to the boredom of permanent positions in tomorrow’s mills and processing facilities, and (3) to provide jobs for teachers and bureaucrats.

    Unfortunately for the teachers, the bureaucrats presently have more power than them and are making their lives harder than necessary. But if the teachers had the leeway to teach the way they wanted to, without wasting time on paperwork, then the bureaucrats would have a harder time in the important work of measuring and standardising everything, and where would we be then? Education department bean-counters would be the ones complaining about 70 hour work weeks, to scoffs of derision from everybody else.

    There’s got to be a better way, but sadly all the innovation anybody’s capable of is “Throw some computers at it.”

  46. I’m amazed there isn’t a service for this that achieves a cookie-cutter, 80% service that just needs to be tuned.

    I suspect the teaching profession, egged on by unions, would violently resist any such initiative, preferring to insist that only unionised teachers employed by the state can do such things and that any commercial assistance amounts to selling children’s education down the river for profit. Their recommendation would be, as always, to have more money thrown at them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *