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Teachers’ union calls for maximum 35-hour week

Patrick Roach, general secretary of teachers' union NASUWT, has said an enforceable 35-hour week must be put on teachers’ contracts for the sake of the profession.

In a blog post, Roach wrote that teachers' additional responsibilities "means workloads and working hours operate without limit”.

He added: “It is time for a contractual, enforceable limit on working hours to ensure that every teacher and head teacher can enjoy a life outside work. This can only be achieved by a remodelled teachers’ contract which provides clear working time rights and entitlements within the framework of a maximum 35-hour working week.”

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‘Basil’, is a recently qualified support teacher at a primary school in south west London. Speaking to HR magazine, he says he regularly works a 45-50 hour week and would support moves for a fixed working week.

“My official salaried hours are 8.30am-3.30pm, but I’m typically working till 5.30pm, then taking work home in the evening,” he says.

“You get told about long hours before you go into teaching, but you never really realise how bad it is until you’re there. The work isn’t necessarily hard, but it’s just the number of hours you need to spend to do it – all the marking, planning and reporting."

NASUWT’s data found 84% of teachers said their mental health has worsened in the last year, with workload being the prime culprit.

It also found that 90% of teachers reported that their workloads had increased over the previous year, with full-time teachers typically working a 57-hour week.

This is significantly more than the 48 hours per week that schools must ensure they adhere to, as set out by the Working Time Regulations Act (1998).

But according to Jane Hallas, head of education at HR consultancy, WorkNest, teachers' hours are already well protected.

Speaking to HR magazine she said: “Each School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) sets a limit of 1,265 hours, reduced to 1,258.5 for the present academic year because of the extra bank holiday, to be allocated by the head teacher.”

She accepts a grey area is the additional time teachers claim they simply 'have' to work.

However, even here she argues there is a maximum working week: “While the STPCD does state that a teacher must also do such additional hours as may be necessary to effectively discharge their professional duties, even this is subject to the maximum average working hours of 48 hours a week over a 17 weeks’ reference period, set out in the Working Time Regulations.”

Despite this, Victoria Willson, partner and employment lawyer at Simkins says this is still a thorny area.

Speaking to HR magazine she said: “Hours are contractually-set, but this matter is arguably more about whether teachers’ good will is being taken advantage of.

"While it would be hard to fire someone for just working their allotted number of hours, teachers might well have a case for arguing they haven’t been promoted if they ‘just’ work their stated hours. That makes this a potentially complex area.”

According to guidance from the National Education Union (NEU), it is “up to the teacher to decide the number of additional hours necessary and where and when such duties will be performed.”

But it adds that head teachers are “required to ensure teachers experience a work/life balance”.

Roach said that unlike other professions, teachers are denied paid overtime and can’t access the same flexible working opportunities as others.

He added: “The profession is still struggling with ever-increasing workload demands. When calculated by the actual number of hours worked each week, teacher salaries are even more uncompetitive compared to other graduate professions.”

According to the National Education Union, a quarter of teachers leave the profession within the first five years of them qualifying. In 2022 more than half (52%) of teachers it polled said their workload was “unmanageable” or “unmanageable most of the time,” up from 35% in 2021.

Collectively, teachers rack up 325 million extra unpaid hours per year, a level that would see teachers earn an extra £11,600 if this time was paid for.

Roach said: “Teachers deserve a better deal, which must include a contractual entitlement to a limit on their workload and working hours.”