To the uninitiated, teachers must live the life of Riley: the privilege of wielding unlimited authority for the entirety of their short workday. And, after terrorising any number of children, they retire to their abode to plot new and inventive ways to triumph over their charges.

Add to that glorious, months-long stretches of time off during the years' finest months and, of course, the respect of the entire community and you have... not at all what a teacher's life is like.

Depending on who you talk to, teachers' work falls in anywhere between ‘a cosy amount of hours, leave by 3:30pm and then enjoy massive holidays’ to ‘a horrific number of stressful hours in overfilled classrooms, trying desperately to fit into our exam culture.’

The former claims may originate from disgruntled parents, students wishing for similar degrees of perceived power, educational traditionalists and/or anti-unionists. Or some combination thereof.  The latter?  Most likely teachers. Maybe aware and concerned parent groups. Certainly, teachers' unions.

Truth be told, there’s no way of openly discussing teachers' work hours without appearing to take one side or the other. But it is a discussion that needs to be had, so your Superprof will try and keep a straight course between both sides of the conversation.

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A Few Statistics

To open this discussion, we first have to present a few facts.

We are lucky to have the annual reports from the Department for Education – a clever delve into the world of teaching, thanks to some assiduous record-keeping. Those reports provide us with the snapshot we need to get a good idea of the hours that teachers really work.

Teaching abroad is more lucrative than at home
ESOL teachers working abroad are generally better-compensated than teachers in our classrooms. Photo credit: Reiner Girsch on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-ND
  • How long is a teaching working week for headteachers?According to the survey, heading the list are secondary school headteachers who fit in 63.3 hours a week. If we base our estimates on a five-day workweek, teachers average 12 hours 40 minutes of work each day.  Not quite the ‘nice to finish at 3:30pm’, is it?  In fact, it’s longer than any factory worker's, shopkeeper or restaurateur's day.
  • What about primary and secondary school teachers? Interestingly, primary school teachers work longer hours than secondary school teachers. Their workweek clocks in at 59.3 hours (11 hours 51 minutes a day) compared to 55.7 hours a week for the latter, or 11 hours 8 minutes a day.
    • In secondary school academies, teachers' workweek averages out to 55.2 hours or 11.04 hours per day.
  • How much of that time is spent in the classroom?This is perhaps a rather key piece of information, as this is what teachers primarily get paid to do.
    • Primary school teachers will spend roughly 19 hours a week in the classroom – that’s 32% of their time.
    • Secondary school teachers, meanwhile, spent 19.6 hours a week in the classroom, or around 35% of their working week.

Apart from the other teachers surveyed: secondary school headteachers only spend on average 2.8 hours a week in the classroom. That should come as no surprise because headteachers function more like managers. Their duties are far wider-ranging than just teaching.

Anyone who cares about education should find the last bulleted points worrying.

For a group of workers whose job description consists mainly of being in a classroom and imparting knowledge, spending only one-third of their time at work fulfilling that function seems - at best, a contradiction in terms and, at worst, a serious dereliction of their primary duties. Not through any fault of their own, mind you.

We should all understand that teachers must spend time reviewing students' assignments and marking papers. Equally certain is that there will be paperwork - academia is, after all, nothing if not a hallowed bureaucracy. But is it so much so that teachers' workload consists of teaching for only one-third of their workweek?

Crikey, who would have thought things were that bad?

No matter how you slice it, those survey results serve well to show that the traditional argument of ‘home by 3:30pm’, often tossed up by people jealous of teachers' seemingly easy life doesn't really hold up well. Besides, even if they do get home around that time, they have plenty of school-related to do.

  • When asked about how much time they spend outside of school hours getting school-related work done, the results showed something that further disproves the 'done by 3:30pm' notion.
    • Note that, in this case, out-of-hours work was defined as ‘before 8am, after 6pm, and at weekends.’
  • For primary school teachers, out-of-hours work made up 23.8% of their working week – just over 2 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Secondary school teachers’ out-of-hours work accounted for 21.4% of their week – or 1 hour 42 minutes a day.
  • For headteachers of secondary schools, it was more or less identical.  Interestingly, headteachers put in more than six hours of work each weekend, according to the survey.

As these numbers prove, teachers are burdened with excessive administrative functions that takes time away from teachers preparations for their lessons.

That begs the question: what are school administrators' duties? Do they fall in line with their allotted daily work hours? In other words: are school administrators finished working when their workday is done?

Oddly enough, school administrators were either not considered in these surveys or they didn't respond. It would have been interesting to hear their take on schools' apparently onerous paperwork requirements.

As the report indicates, the only given response was from primary school teachers, who spent on average 4 hours 18 minutes a week on paperwork and administration.  45% of respondents said that the amount of unnecessary or bureaucratic paperwork had increased, with 5% saying it had fallen.

According to teachers' statements, the majority of the paperwork that was branded as unnecessary revolved around Ofsted inspections.  Headteachers also cited changing government policies as a cause for unnecessary bureaucratic work in schools.

It's too bad that school staff aren't considered bureaucrats; they would be paid more...

Poorly paid teachers often worry over how to pay their bills
Teachers often agonise over how to make ends meet on the salary they draw Photo credit: kevin dooley on VisualHunt.com / CC BY

Teachers' Compensation

It is rather startling to confront the fact that so many teachers seem to spend so little time in the classroom, actually teaching, and are spending nearly five hours a week purely on doing paperwork. It also seems that teachers are having to act as administrators and are so encumbered by paperwork that they have little time to get on with their teaching job.

Surely, then, that must mean that teachers make extra money filling out all of those forms, right? Quite the contrary.

In general, teachers earn no overtime for the extra hours they spend working, no matter what that work entails - teaching or administrative tasks. Nor do they receive any compensation for any time spent completing tasks beyond what their original salary specifies. And that's whether the work is done at home or while at school.

Studies show that, across the nation, our teachers rack up 325 million hours of extra work which they are not paid for.

According to the Trade Union Congress (TUC), this added up to seven billion pounds in unpaid labour per year. That astronomical sum averages out to roughly £11,600 per teacher, per year.

Considering that, in some parts of the country, newly-minted teachers barely earn a living wage, it’s troubling to realise that there are no changes forecast for teachers' compensation packages. That teachers seem to spend much of their time - personal and professional, doing paperwork and preparing for inspections for free just adds insult to injury.

If you are a newly-qualified teacher, £11,600 is almost half of what you’d earn in a year. That means that, in effect, the government is taking a third of teachers' salary by not fully accounting for - and compensating them for the work they do.

Let's back up a moment...

We’ve already established that out-of-hours work accounts for only around a quarter of teachers' working lives. That assertion might lead one to argue that teachers are simply being underpaid but the amount they are losing out on is greater than what they would have gained from being paid for all of the hours they work, whether at school or in their supposed free time.

Such a revelation must be shocking and somewhat irritating - not just for those teachers, but for anyone who cares about fairness and education.

It’s a shame that the above-cited report did not consider how much work teachers get up to in the holidays. That would have been a fascinating read and would perhaps settle the other argument that we hear about from various groups: “Lucky you, only having to work term-time.”

Earning a Living Wage

A living wage is defined as 'high enough to maintain a normal standard of living'.

Many factors go into determining both what a normal standard of living is and how much money it takes to maintain that standard.

For instance, a London postcode represents some of the most expensive real estate on the planet; ergo, one must be paid more to maintain an adequate standard of living. By contrast, living in the Greater Manchester area but outside of the major metropolitan centres is quite affordable, meaning that less money would be required to live comfortably.

Determining whether you're earning a living wage depends on where you live, but also what the standard of living in that area is.

If the majority of the population lives in council flats but you own a house, your standard of living is considered high. Likewise, if the majority of your town's inhabitants own their home but you live in a bedsit because that's all your income affords you, you're not earning a living wage.

Living in London is very expensive.
By all reports, London is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in Photo on Visualhunt

Those are two main factors that help determine whether you're being paid fairly. Others include your age and work experience - both in your current field and your overall work history.

Jobted reveals that, across the UK, secondary school teachers' salary averages out to £37.000 per year. That sum does not take into account the fine distinctions - say, the difference in pay for an English teacher versus a PE or art teacher. However, it does distinguish a headteacher's annual pay (£55.000) from what a new teacher, fresh out of training might expect to earn (£24.000).

No matter where in the country a new teacher starts their career, that amount could hardly be called a living wage, can it?

To supplement their income, many teachers turn to private tutoring, even though they have plenty of supplemental work to do on nights and weekends for their official job.

Depending on how they organise and conduct their tutoring business, teachers stand to earn as much (or more) in their role as an academic coach as they do leading classroom learning. They have more flexibility as a tutor to exercise their pedagogy than the rigid Department for Education standards allow, too.

The excess, unpaid work, the nearly insulting wage scale, the administrative tasks that keep teachers from spending most of their time fulfilling their primary function... It's no wonder that teachers are leaving the profession in droves after an average of five years spent teaching in a formal classroom setting.

Whether we rely on teachers to educate our children or have no children to send to school, we have to consider the ethics of compensating those who 'train' our future movers and shakers so poorly.

We quite literally stake our future - the future of our country, the world and, not to be too dramatic about things, even our humanity on people whose job doesn't pay well enough to live comfortably or allow them to plan for their own future.

Our country's labour laws actually forbid some of the practices that teachers are subjected to, especially working excessively long hours and not being paid for the work being done. How it can be thought as generally permissible that people who perform such a vital function in our society be so poorly treated?

You can surely imagine how all of this would grate on some teachers out there.

Perhaps one shining light in this dismal landscape: we don’t have any evidence to suggest that teachers do too much work during school holidays - at least, not for the school. Their tutoring business may keep them hopping even as we plan our Christmas celebrations and Springtime holidays abroad.

Anecdotally, however, we do hear a lot about teachers who mark work over various half terms and the like.

After reading this, it should be clear to all that those claims of teachers getting an easy deal on hours is rather unjust, especially given that they’re missing out financially.  On top of that, they’re often not doing what they’re being paid to do - the reason they engaged in the profession, but merely writing up reports, preparing for inspections and filing administrative documents.

Ultimately, don't you think that teachers need and deserve to be compensated for the hours they really put in… and to bring the focus for them back to teaching?

Feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Laura

Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.