Independent school staff are having to give up an increasing amount of their free time to manage heavy workloads, and to deal with queries from parents, according to a survey by the National Education Union (NEU)
The survey of over 1,000 teachers and leaders in independent schools found 70% (69.1%) said their workload has increased over the past year.
Almost a third (29.2%) said that they are expected to respond immediately when they are contacted by a parent out of school.
Forty-five per cent of respondents said their school does not have a policy in place to deal with parental contact out-of-hours, meaning that many are expected to respond to emails and texts from parents during evenings and weekends.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “All education staff must be allowed a healthy work-life balance and be given the time to switch-off after a working day or week. The fact that so many independent school staff are not being allowed to is unacceptable.
“Teachers’ workloads are already unmanageable without the added pressure of being expected to respond to emails from parents during evenings and weekends. Schools need to ensure that policies and procedures are in place to help staff deal with work outside of core school hours.”
A teacher from the North East said: “Officially I should only respond in school hours. In practice, most staff respond outside of school hours, as it’s considered normal.”
A teacher from the Midlands said: “Parents generally expect an instant response, but the school has been working very hard to explain to parents that teachers need time to relax in the evenings and weekends.”
A teacher from the South West said: “We can send a holding email, but must do a full recorded response within 24-hours, even if we are teaching six hours straight, two days in a row and are on duty. If we can’t do it in school hours we have to do it from home. If a parent complains we haven’t responded, this is often brought up in the staffroom by senior management.”
A teacher from the North East said: “Emails from parents come in up to midnight and over the weekend and holidays. I try to take a step back from the workplace and leave these messages until school hours resume, but this often leads to parents becoming impatient and critical so I often end up responding during my own time.”
Worryingly, almost a quarter (22.17%) of independent school staff are spending the equivalent of up to two working days (15+ hours a week) on activities related to their job during their evenings and weekends. Eighteen per cent are spending between 11-15 hours a week working outside their core school hours.
A teacher from the South West said: “I have now more lessons that begin earlier and finish later. I’m also required to work during the lunch break and after school. Most of the time, I find myself struggling to find time to make annotations in my student’s lessons and even finding time to prepare lessons.”
A teacher from the east of England said: “In the last week before half-term I worked on average 17-hours-a-day. Nobody should be expected to do that.”
A member of the leadership team at a school in the South West said: “I work the hours necessary to get things done and, although I get job satisfaction, my work-life balance is not very good.”
A head of department in the South East said: “There is pressure to do more and I seem to spend so much time completing safeguarding training, filling out paperwork and answering constant emails, that there is no time for planning. Thus, work has to be done outside of the school day.”
More than a quarter (28.93%) spend between 16 and 25 hours a week carrying out other activities related to their job, such as administration or marking. Almost a fifth (18.10%) spend over 30 hours a week doing so – the equivalent of over four working days a week spent on administration.
A teacher from the South East said: “Workload is increasingly unmanageable as teaching, marking, extra-curricular support, combined with new initiatives leave little slack, so ‘busy’ times, such as examination lead-ups become an impossible burden. Colleagues are exhausted.”
Eighty per cent reported that they must work extra hours because their workload demands it, and half said they are expected to. Worryingly, almost 60% (58.1%) said their school has no policy, system or process in place to help manage their workload.
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