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.

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

  1. I suspect the teaching profession, egged on by unions, would violently resist any such initiative

    When the National Numeracy Hour arrived in primary schools in the late 90s (an Ed Balls initiative if I recall correctly), which came with unusually specific instructions for the delivery of each session, teachers did indeed kick up a fuss about it being too prescriptive and undermining their professional autonomy.

    Personally am not a fan of a single state-imposed lesson-by-lesson guide for every hour that kids spend in school, because the risks are quite severe – if you cock some aspect of it up, you mess up the education of an entire generation. Systems are more resilient if they have more variation. If the Initial Teaching Alphabet had been rolled out at every school, it would have been a disaster, for example. (That article is a great read btw. Wonder how many of your readers will recognise it!) Using a range of commercially-available schemes of work and materials, with the autonomy to rejig things if you see fit, seems far more sensible to me – but then I never went for the management jobs, so what do I know?”

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