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Teacher Workload

Jean Walker

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Here in Tasmania my union has just released the findings of a major workload study which we commissioned from our University last year. It shows that teachers are working long hours, considered "dangerous" by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Even extrapolated over a "normal" 46 week working year, teachers work at least a 40 hour week. If you want to read the whole report it's available on our website


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When I first started teaching in the 1970s it was clear that a very small percentage of teachers did not spend much time marking and preparing. These were usually people approaching retirement. They sat in their favourite seat in the staffroom until the first bell went. Within minutes of the final bell they were back in their staffroom seat. It was rare to see them with the work of their students. In fact, as a form tutor I had to spend a great deal of time dealing with the complaints from parents about this “lack of marking”.

However, these teachers were rare. The vast majority worked long hours. Most did it because they saw it as part of their job. I know I did. I also enjoyed it. As someone who had spent six years working in a factory I knew what it was like to be an alienated worker who looked at the clock every 15 minutes. I had reached that stage that Herbert Marcuse claims is impossible in a capitalist society. I was not able to distinguish the difference between work and leisure. I am sure a lot of my colleagues felt the same way about teaching.

However, this changed in the 1980s when the UK government decided to introduce legislation that insisted that teachers worked a certain number of hours a year. This approach was reinforced by the introduction of a National Curriculum and Ofsted inspections.

This legislation actually reduced the number of hours many teachers worked. Angry at being treated like factory workers, they withdrew some of this time. This especially hurt out of classroom activities. (The impact of this is still being felt – for example the recent sporting performance of national teams).

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