On paper at least, teaching has to be one of the most rewarding careers out there, across a wide number of factors. From the difference teachers make to the lives of all the students in their control, to the variety of duties that you have to perform – not forgetting to mention the opportunity to take your working environment abroad to virtually any country on the planet – at Eteach, we love celebrating the impact teachers have.
However, there can be little doubt that the profession is in a current state of flux, with record numbers of teachers leaving the classroom early and the government missing their own teacher recruitment targets 4 years in a row. What are the underlying causes of these worrying trends?
One area that seems to be gaining acceptance in the national press is the rising number of barriers and hurdles being put in place that are preventing teachers from doing the sole thing they want to be doing – spending time in the classroom, teaching and guiding pupils to learn, develop and grow in order to achieve the best possible outcomes in life.
Marking - a global problem
A recent international study found that teachers in the UK are spending the equivalent of a whole day each week on marking and reporting. The UK ranks among the highest in terms of time teachers spend on admin tasks; time that could surely be better used teaching in the classroom. This has to be a concern not only to teachers but also to the parents of the students being sent to school.
There needs to be a level of acknowledgement that classroom-based work and homework must be reviewed and assessed with worthwhile feedback provided. But does this need to take so much time? Are there any alternative options that could be put in place? One important question to consider – do we actually have enough teachers?
The report goes into further detail, claiming this isn’t a national issue but a global problem, showing that 68% of teachers around the world feel they spend far too much time marking and not enough teaching. As already mentioned, the UK unfortunately appears at the top of the ‘time spent on marking’ league table; 17% of teachers in the UK claim they spend more than 11 hours a week marking, compared to 9% in the US and only 7% in Australia. What are these countries doing differently? As a teacher, did you really expect to spend so much time on administration duties when you joined the profession?
Long working hours
The Department for Education has acknowledged that, on average, UK teachers work 57.5 hours a week. This is way above the national average, with the TUC saying the average working week across all professions is 43.6 hours. Of far greater concern is the fact that teachers are only spending 19 hours a week actually teaching in the classroom, with the rest of their time taken up by lesson planning, marking, children supervision and other forms of administration.
The government is fully aware of the negative impact that teacher workload is having on the recruitment and retention of teachers, acknowledging that they are working longer than the OECD average but are spending the same amount of time in front of their classes.
Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb has directly challenged the profession, suggesting that they might not be working as efficiently as their overseas colleagues. He points out the root cause for why teachers are spending too much time on marking as being down to their personal preferences, ‘marking in different coloured pens, and giving feedback in exercise books, had never been a government or an Ofsted requirement. It’s not required for there to be this dialogue on paper between the child and the teacher’.
One suggestion to reduce the burden of marking was to grade individual students rather than provide detailed, written feedback. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers assistant general secretary Nansi Ellis believes Mr Gibb was being sincere in trying to reduce teachers’ workload but challenged his approach by saying ‘he needs to look at evidence before he starts telling teachers how to mark’.
She went on to validate her concerns: ‘earlier this year, the Education Endowment Foundation found that awarding grades for every piece of work may reduce the benefit of marking, particularly if pupils become preoccupied with their grades at the expense of teachers’ comments, and some forms of marking are unlikely to improve pupil progress.’
David Anstead of the Nottingham education improvement board observed a possible cause of the problem by suggesting that teachers and heads were in fear of a visit from Ofsted and so got sucked into paperwork which was sometimes unnecessary.
This situation has only worsened over the past few years, with further administration being piled on teachers to satisfy more onerous Ofsted inspections, increased levels of benchmarking in schools and not to mention to the possibility of longer school days and shorter holidays. Teachers are already having to juggle far too many tasks; what does the future hold for the profession if this is set to worsen? Can technology, such as online marking and reporting, be used to help to address the problem?
Let us have your thoughts
There’s no doubt that marking is part and parcel of daily school life. Students need to be assessed and steered in the right direction. However, are all the hours currently being spent on administration duties really an efficient use of a highly skilled and qualified teacher’s time? What alternative suggestions do you have to keep teachers where they want to be – teaching in the classroom? What will happen to the overall quality of education if the government, schools and teachers fail to address the problem?