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Marking is the key driver of work stress among teachers

25 November 2020

Marking and lesson planning are the two aspects of teachers’ jobs that lead to the greatest increase in workload stress and levels of poor wellbeing, according to a new study by UCL Institute of Education (IOE) researchers.

Homework marking on the floor

The working paper is published today by the Nuffield Foundation, who also funded the report. It analysed data from the 2018 Teaching and Learning International Study (TALIS) and included survey answers from 9,405 teachers in five predominantly English-speaking education systems from England, Australia, Alberta-Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

The study highlights that teachers across England work some of the longest hours in Europe and recent research by the IOE found that a quarter of teachers work more than 59 hours a week.

Lead author, Professor John Jerrim (UCL Social Research Institute) said: “Our study shows that it is not just a case of saying extra hours lead to extra stress among teachers, but what they are doing in those hours.

“We found that for every extra hour teachers spend on marking and planning there is a significant association with decline in wellbeing at work. This is most likely because these are often tasks done at the evening, weekend and during school holidays.

“We also found that other aspects of the job such as extra time spent teaching or working with colleagues and undertaking professional development appear to have little direct effect upon the quality of working life.”

The study also found the relationship between teachers’ working hours and their wellbeing may not be linear. For example, if teachers worked 35 hours a week, adding an extra hour or two may not lead to serious consequences.

“However, for those working 60 hours a week, an additional hour or two of work could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” explained Professor Jerrim.

Additionally, the paper also highlighted the inequality in hours worked and levels of wellbeing experienced by full-time teachers. The findings suggested that full-time primary teachers in England who work 40 hours per week could increase this to 45 or even 50 hours with little effect upon their workload stress and wellbeing. At the same time, a reduction of five or ten hours amongst those teachers who currently work 60 or more hours per week might potentially lead to an appreciable increase in this group’s quality of life.

Co-author, Dr Sam Sims (UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities) added: “Our findings have important implications for education policy. There are two clear areas where reducing teachers’ workloads would help reduce stress: lesson preparation and marking.

With respect to the former, perhaps the easiest thing that policymakers can do is dramatically reduce examination, curriculum and inspection reforms – all of which create new work for teachers, who are forced to change lessons, materials and teaching styles as a result.”

Media contact

Jake Hawkes, UCL Media Relations
+44 (0)7747 565 056
Email: j.hawkes@ucl.ac.uk

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Image: courtesy of Thibaud Saintin via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)