Teachers working time – the “new norm” or illegality?

A recent Department for Education workload survey suggests teachers in England work an average of 54 hours a week and school leaders work in excess of 60 hours a week. Regulated working hours for teachers are essential both to help schools plan the school day effectively and to ensure teachers are able to achieve a satisfactory work life balance. So should they be working these hours, including in the school holidays?

Directed Time

The majority of publicly funded schools in England Wales operate according to the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD), requiring a full time teacher to work for up to a maximum of 1,265 hours over 195 days of the year, with 190 of these days being teaching days and the remainder being non-teaching days to be set out in a “budget” for each academic year. This is “directed time” and a teacher cannot be directed to work more than these hours, nor can they be required to work on any Saturday, Sunday or public holiday unless this is expressly stated in the employee’s contract of employment.

Additional Hours

It is also common to find within a maintained school teaching contract the requirement to work “such reasonable additional hours as necessary”. These additional hours cannot be specified by the school and do not count towards hours of directed time. It is up to the teacher to exercise professional judgement to manage this time. This creates a theoretical potential working year of 365 days, which is recognised in case law on the correct rate of deduction of salary for teachers on strike action (Smith v Kent County Council and Hartley v King Edward VI College). In that case it was held that teaching salaries accrue at an equal daily rate and so the correct approach was to deduct based on total number of annual working days in the year, i.e. at a rate of 1/365 day. Excessive working hours are contrary to the STPCD if these hours are at the direction of the head teacher. In fact, most teachers who work these additional hours do so from choice: simply doing “such hours as are necessary”.

Pressures

There is still growing pressure on teachers to deliver re pupil results, often with added administrative burdens around marking, planning and assessing pupils.  Revision classes for pupils also make demands that cannot be met within 1265 hours or 195 days. The increase in pressure to achieve will inevitably lead to a rise in working hours as teachers strive to meet this growing expectation.

Academy Hours

The other factor is the growth of academies. Many academies still operate according to the STPCD provisions but legally they have the freedom to operate terms and conditions which do not adhere to the STPCD and can set directed time in excess of these requirements. However, a teacher’s working time should still be clearly defined in their contract of employment, with the directed time specified on an annual basis as part of a budget.

Future Developments

It remains to be seen how the excessive hours of teachers can be addressed. Certainly Damien Hinds as recently focused on the increasing workload of teachers and ways to lessen this burden, with the Department for Education publishing a policy paper in March 2019 to address reducing teacher workload.

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