According to the 2018 NEU survey, 81% of teachers said they have considered leaving teaching in the last year because of the pressures of workload. That’s pretty much most teachers!
In the NEU survey, one teacher commented: “I don't know how I can change how I work, I don't know how long I can maintain it, and the impact that it's having on my family is horrific. I am near marriage breakdown and one of the reasons is my job.”
The suicide rate among primary school teachers in England is nearly two times higher than the national average during the period 2011 to 2015, according to data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
On a TES forum about workload and stress, one teacher commented: ‘No suicides at my school but plenty of stress-related illness, anti-depressant use and depression. Also lots of people leaving teaching entirely…’
This is mind-bogglingly serious stuff! It wasn’t long ago that the union’s tackling excessive workload advice consisted of a list of admin tasks that teachers should not do. The union has developed that advice somewhat, for instance: https://neu.org.uk/advice/tackling-workload-together
The advice contains a ‘toolkit’ from the DfE, and no doubt some of it is useful, but it tends to assume that all our members have to do is read the advice, implement the toolkit, and things will get better. The reality of the job is that it doesn’t work like that because excessive workload is often driven by a bullying management culture, and that in turn is the result of the fragmented and target/results driven nature of education. It is fear and lack of confidence that stops us from tacking excessive workload at school, and no toolkit by itself will provide the means to fix the job.
The advice is also focussed on classroom teachers. Support staff also have workload issues!
Ironically, some schools themselves are considering or adopting policies such as ‘no written marking’ because those school leaders recognise that something needs to be done about excessive workload. But how come our union is so far behind the curve here? Surely we need to be bolder in arguing that much of what we do at work is not about teaching but about ticking someone else’s boxes and policing us? Conference needs to agree to a plan of action about what we are going to do about this collectively, not school by school, or as isolated individuals. We need a national plan of action so that the tools in the toolkit do the job properly.
Pat Markey, Secretary Northampton District NEU (pc)