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Unmanageable workloads grinding down teachers and stopping them concentrating on tasks which benefit pupils - ATL

ATL | Association of Teachers and Lecturers

6 min read Partner content

Eighty per cent of school staff say their workload is still unmanageable one year on from the Governments Workload Challenge, according to an Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) survey.

Responding to the survey, 81% of teachers and 85% of senior leaders said their workload was unmanageable.  The situation is slightly better, but still unsustainable, for support staff with 54% feeling their workload is unmanageable.

In addition, four in five (82%) school staff say they have considered leaving teaching as a result of their workload.  These are the preliminary figures from an ATL survey of teachers, senior leaders (excluding heads) and support staff working in state-funded schools in England.

Despite the warm words from Nicky Morgan following the Workload Challenge, to which 44,000 teachers responded, the Government is still responsible for much of the workload facing teachers.  Over nine in ten teachers (91% overall, 94% of teachers, 95% of senior leaders) say having fewer changes to the curriculum would make the most difference to their workload.  In addition, 76% say having a more reliable inspection system would cut their workload.  The other most significant ways to reduce workload, according to education staff, would be cutting admin such as photocopying (cited by 79%), having an appraisal objective to reduce workload (78%), having a school work-life balance policy (77%), fewer meetings (75%), being able to choose how and how often to mark (74%) and better programmes for data entry and analysis (70%).

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said:  “A year on from the Government’s Workload Challenge and it seems little has improved for school staff.  ATL’s survey shows eight in ten teachers and senior leaders still think their workload is unmanageable, and many others say their workload is only manageable if they work late every evening and at weekends. 

“Teachers, support staff and school managers expect they will have to work hard and a heavy workload and stress are nothing new.  But the current situation is hugely damaging and unsustainable.  The excessive workload is damaging teachers’ health, making many want to leave the profession and means they are often exhausted in class.

“The Government needs to acknowledge it is responsible for much of the current workload because staff have to keep re-planning what they are doing to keep up with changes to the curriculum.  The cruel irony is much of the work school staff are doing is not making them better teachers or improving children’s education – it is photocopying, preparing resources and data analysis.  If teachers could free up their time they would be able to spend more time doing things that make most difference to children’s learning such as actually talking to their pupils and their parents, working with other colleagues and learning from other colleagues’ teaching practice.”

Unnecessary work is stopping staff getting on with tasks that would be of greater benefit to children’s education.  Overall, 46% said they would like to spend more time collaborating with colleagues or other professionals to improve their teaching and 45% would like to spend more time talking one-to-one with pupils or their parents.

Staff say some of the time-consuming tasks support pupils: marking, pastoral support, photocopying and preparing resources and classrooms, and lesson planning; but these become problematic when they have to be done too frequently or in a particular way.  School heads need to think carefully about which tasks benefit children as staff say the main reason they do some tasks is because their heads or senior leaders require them to be done.  Over eight in ten identified attending meetings (88%), collecting evidence for performance management (83%) and data entry and analysis (82%) as being required by their heads, but say these are of little benefit to pupils with only 4% thinking collecting evidence for performance management benefits pupils, 19% saying attending meetings does and 23% for data entry and analysis.  Over seven in ten say writing reports (76%) and preparing for lesson observations (76%) are mainly done because heads want them done.

There are few tasks school staff do not think should be done at all.  The two tasks regarded as least worthwhile are collecting evidence for performance management (cited by 19%) and preparing for lesson observations (17%).  Overall 62% of staff identified meetings as the main task which should take place less frequently, followed by responding to emails (48%), preparing for lesson observations (43%) and marking (39%). 

Overall 42% do not think they should do photocopying, preparing resources and organising the classroom - 45% of teachers and senior leaders, but only 25% of support staff.  Over a third (37%) say they should not be doing data entry and analysis - 39% of teachers, but only 29% of senior leaders. 

ATL has developed a campaign, It’s About Time (, #abouttime), to raise awareness of the impact of workload on all education staff, identify tasks which are most problematic and help find practical solutions so staff can cut their own workloads and those of colleagues.  Information and examples from teachers, lecturers, leaders and support staff will be used in talks with the Government to try to encourage it to think about the impact of education policies on workload and try to get it to reduce the burden on education staff.  And the workload tracker will allow staff to plot what they spend time on so they can identify the most time consuming tasks and see where they could do things differently.

Mary Bousted said: “ATL has developed a workload tracker to help teachers, support staff, school and college managers and other education staff identify the top five things that are taking up their time, so they can check with colleagues common issues in their school or college and try to find solutions.

“We want stories of primary teachers crying from exhaustion on their kitchen floor to become a thing of the past, and an end to teachers being told that working until 11pm every night is just the way it is in teaching.”

Some schools, recognising the problems, have introduced changes or cut the amount of paperwork they require so teachers can concentrate on the most important tasks.  A primary teacher in an academy said: “We are empowered to do as we see fit in terms of planning as long as the provision is included. There is no 'double marking' here or rewriting out planning session by session.”

A senior leader at a primary school said: “I work in a very supportive school. Paperwork is very much on purposeful basis. The head does not require plans to be submitted, as she has much better things to do!”

Hannah Gyngell, a newly qualified secondary teacher at Manshead School in Bedfordshire, said: “My school has worked with staff to ease workload in terms of reporting, as there were too many reports to write, which had to be very detailed and took up a lot of time. Senior leaders decided it was not an effective way of reporting to parents and was creating too much added workload for staff. By simplifying the way staff report, it has become a more stress-free exercise, and reports serve more of a purpose.”