Reduce working hours to tackle teacher retention, suggests new research

By Nuffield Foundation

According to a new Nuffield-funded study by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), teachers work the longest hours at 50 hours per week during term time, followed by police officers (44) and nurses (39).

Working long hours over prolonged periods, as teachers are doing, can create pressure and stress, with potential negative effects on health and well-being, all of which may impact on staff retention.

The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, looks at how the teaching profession compares to nursing and policing – two of the other large and important public sector professions. Pay caps and job pressures have reportedly fuelled staff shortages across the public sector. Using Understanding Society survey data, NFER examined how full time teachers compare to full time nurses and police officers. Comparing the characteristics of each profession’s workforce, earnings, hours worked and job satisfaction, the research found that working hours is still a matter of concern for teachers.

It shows that the long hours that teachers work during term time exceed the amount of extra holiday time they may receive. Even after taking account of school holidays, full-time teachers still work the equivalent of 45 hours per week.

The study also found that teachers’ average hourly pay (in real terms, after adjusting for inflation) has decreased by 15 per cent since 2009/10. Over the same period, average hourly pay has fallen by 4 and 11 per cent for nurses and police officers. However, despite longer working hours and a background of falling real-terms pay, teachers remain satisfied with their jobs and incomes, but not with their amount of leisure time.

According to the analysis:
  • 47 per cent of teachers said they were satisfied with their amount of leisure time in 2015-16, the lowest of the three professions, while 43 per cent said they were dissatisfied.
  • 78 per cent of full time teachers said they were satisfied with their jobs in 2015-16, which is lower than full time nurses’ job satisfaction rates, but higher than full time police officers.
  • 79 per cent of teachers said they were satisfied with their income levels. Nurses and police officers are less satisfied with their income levels than teachers.

NFER Chief Executive, Carole Willis, said of NFER’s findings: “This is an important piece of research to gain insight into whether the difficulties faced in recruitment and retention are unique to teaching or common to other professions in the public sector. Our analysis shows that long working hours is one of the main barriers to improving teacher retention, an issue that is consistent with our previous reports in this series, and that working hours have been increasing over the last five years. Therefore, we recommend that further work to reduce the working hours of teachers should be a priority for school leaders and the Government.”

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation said: “Without action to reduce working hours, financial incentives to attract new teachers will be limited in the extent to which they can tackle the supply crisis, as teachers will continue to leave the profession in high numbers. Recent recognition by the Secretary of State of the need to address teacher workload is welcome, but this research shows that a more ambitious action plan is required, particularly in the context of rising student numbers.”

The full findings from Research Update 4: How do teachers compare to nurses and police officers? can be found on NFER’s website along with previous research reports in this Teacher Retention and Turnover series. A final report will be published in summer 2018. To register your interest in this project, please visit: www.nfer.ac.uk/research/teaching-workforce-dynamics. For more on NFER’s work in the School Workforce area, visit www.nfer.ac.uk/research/school-workforce.

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