Excessive workload taking its toll on school teachers

6 March 2019

Workload and excessive out-of-hours work are a key cause of low morale amongst public school teachers in Australia, with nearly 92 per cent of teachers expressing concern that they do not have enough time outside of classes for lesson planning, marking, report writing and administrative tasks.

These statistics are from the AEU’s submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training Inquiry into the Status of the Teaching Profession. Australian Education Union (AEU) Federal President Correna Haythorpe and AEU Victorian Branch President Meredith Peace will attend the public hearing in Melbourne on Wednesday 6 March 2019.

The comprehensive submission covers a number of concerns, including teacher remuneration, Initial Teacher Education, better career and leadership structures, teacher autonomy in the classroom, professional development for school staff, and increasing the recruitment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers. However a key focus of the submission is the escalating workload faced by teachers and school leaders.

In an AEU survey of 3,591 teachers conducted late last year, nearly three quarters of respondents felt that they spent too much time on administrative tasks. In addition, nearly half of 478 principals surveyed said that they worked for 56 hours or more per week.

Ms Haythorpe said that excessive teacher workload experienced during school hours and at home was a significant factor for teachers leaving the profession.

“The workload burden on teachers in Australia is immense,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“In an AEU Victoria workload study, ninety per cent of teachers indicated that their workload at some stage has had a negative effect on their teaching.”

“Most alarmingly, the same study revealed that more than a third of teachers in all schools have indicated that their workload often or nearly always adversely affected their health,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“The community acceptance of teachers working up two additional days per week for sustained periods of time, and indeed often on a permanent basis, and being swamped with additional tasks only tangentially related to their practice, is one of the factors most frequently cited by teachers as the reason for leaving the profession.”

“The consistency of these results across states and across teachers and principals of all levels of experience in both primary and secondary schools, clearly indicates that escalating workloads is a critical issue that must be addressed by governments,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Our members commonly tell us that not only are they being expected to work too many hours, but the increased work that is asked of them makes little or no contribution to student learning. It’s a case of not only too much work but the wrong work.”

According to the submission:

  • a survey of more than 18,000 teachers in NSW found that the average full time teacher works 55 hours per week during term time, with 43 hours per week at school on average and a further 11 hours per week at home.
  • In Victoria, classroom teachers in both primary and secondary schools reported working an average of 53 hours per week, and leading teachers reported working an average of 55 hours per week.
  • all teachers spent an average of between 11.5 and 13 hours per week engaged in work outside of the school day.
  • OECD data also shows that a teacher’s job satisfaction and self-efficacy are inversely proportional to the time they spend on administrative tasks, particularly in Australia.

Ms Haythorpe said that increased funding and systemic support from education departments could enable teachers to manage escalating workloads and enhance their focus on teaching and learning.

“For principals, reducing the amount of devolved system management and administration work would mean providing more time to focus on educational leadership.”

“Out-of-hours work, unnecessary workload and attrition are inextricably linked. Our members have consistently told us that their workloads are too high and the amount of work required of them away from school is too great,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“We have asked our members which factors would help retain teachers in the profession, and more than half all respondents stated that the primary influencing factor would be a reduction in excessive workloads. That requires extra resources for more staff and a reduction in unnecessary bureaucratic requirements.”

“Addressing excessive workload is fundamental to the appreciation of teaching as a profession and the attraction and retention of teachers in that profession, whether as teachers or educational leaders,” Ms Haythorpe said.

Note: the AEU’s submission to the Inquiry can be downloaded here.