Cutting workload isn’t enough to stop teachers leaving schools

The Guardian reports that it seems almost impossible at present to discuss any aspect of the teaching profession without the topic of workload being raised – and rightly so. The latest Department for Education workload survey found that classroom teachers and middle leaders work 54.4 hours a week on average, with senior leaders averaging 60 hours, and workload is widely recognised as the major cause of teachers leaving their roles.

The idea of making a difference to students’ lives remains a major draw for the profession, but can simultaneously be a cause of increased workload in itself. The desire to do everything possible to help young people can make it hard for teachers to switch off. There is always a feeling that there is something more to do. Demands around marking, data entry and paper trails have increased, and teachers end up adding these to their already full days – rather than cutting out the elements of their teaching practice that they know are important to their students.

Another major driver for people choosing to join the teaching profession is their belief that they will be good at the job [pdf]. But it’s easy to see how, in a culture of hyper-accountability, this sense of confidence in their own capability might be eroded.

And what about job satisfaction? A recent report based on Talis data [pdf] indicates that while workload is a factor in this, it is not simply a question of how many hours they work but whether they feel their workload is manageable – something the researchers suggest could be dependent on the level of support and resources they receive. What’s more, the most important factor in increasing teachers’ job satisfaction and reducing their desire to move school is good leadership. This is perhaps no surprise, but it emphasises how much of a difference school leaders can make.

Scope for progression, opportunities for teacher cooperation, feedback and effective professional development are also important. A study commissioned by the Wellcome Trust found that participation in subject-specific continuing professional development improved retention of science teachers.

Sticking plaster approaches to the teacher recruitment and retention challenges, such as bursaries for shortage subjects, may be absolutely necessary in times of crisis. However, they must be seen as just that – a short-term fix. These measures need to run alongside long-term, sustainable solutions that address all of the push and pull factors in the profession. Teachers need to be given the time, autonomy and professional development and collaboration opportunities that will help them to keep making a difference – as well as recognition of how good a job they do.

Read more Cutting workload isn’t enough to stop teachers leaving schools

Is good leadership the most important factor in increasing teachers’ job satisfaction? Does your school leader team know this? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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