Heavier workload increases teachers’ stress

Teachers are working well over 40 hours per week before counting any unpaid duties done by thousands at second-level schools, a union survey has found.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) said a rising workload, described as unacceptable by 74% of those who responded to its survey, is contributing to increased stress and falling job satisfaction.

Although workload is not the direct subject of any motions at ASTI’s annual convention in Cork next week, some of the recent education initiatives contributing to it are among the themes.

Delegates will seek, for example, to initiate a right to opt-out of supervision and substitution duties, and to demand meaningful consultation with teachers on changes to the second-level curriculum.

Of the 2,341 ASTI members who responded to the online survey in January, 92% said they are teaching full-time. This means they teach 21 hours and 20 minutes a week, reduced by one 40-minute period a week recently to facilitate whole-school practices associated with junior cycle reforms.

In addition, the survey found that second-level teachers typically spent just over 20 hours a week on non-teaching activities such as planning lessons, marking homework and other assignments, providing feedback, attending school meetings, and completing pastoral care duties.

Most also do supervision and substitution duties such as yard supervision for up to 33 hours in the school year, or get paid less if they do not do it.

Further requirements include attending an average of five parent-teacher meetings a year, usually around two-and-a-half hours each. A similar time is spent attending one or two school open nights annually, and between 10% and 20% spent from two to six hours in the past year preparing for school inspections or responding to them.

One in three members of ASTI told the survey carried out by Red C that they do unpaid school work such as student support roles, co-ordinating school tours or leading teaching teams in one of their subjects.

While a third of those teachers spend less than two hours a week at these duties, the average was nearly five hours. More than one-quarter of the teachers doing unpaid work — meaning almost one in 10 of all teachers — do so for over 10 hours a week.

The key sources of increased work included extra hours required under the Croke Park social partnership deal, junior cycle reforms and additional paperwork and administrative tasks.

The survey found just 51% of respondents describe themselves as satisfied or very satisfied with their work, slightly lower than similar responses in recent years, but down from a high of 77% in 2009.

ASTI president Ger Curtin said teachers’ work has changed significantly in the past decade.

“As society has changed, the role of the teacher has expanded,” he said. “The number of new initiatives in schools and the pace at which they are implemented has increased.”

Mr Curtin said teaching has always been acknowledged as a stressful job but the survey is now showing that teachers face unsustainable demands, high stress levels, and low morale.

“This must be addressed as a matter of urgency if we are to maintain our high-quality education service,” he said.

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