Workload on the front line

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02 December 2015 by Ralph Surman
Workload and work life balance is a prominent issue of discussion among educational professionals. The government seems to have taken very little notice of their own Workload Challenge survey, which 40,000 professionals took time and trouble to complete. Ignoring such an enormous response seems dismissive of the profession.

Recently, I took part in an on-line discussion about workload. Immediately, I was struck by the commitment and dedication of those who put young people first.

The honest thoughts of professionals taking part, made me realise the extent of the issue - everyone is juggling excessive and overwhelming workloads.

But how can teachers’ stay sane in the face of workload challenges? Here are some examples from the discussion:

  • “Saturday is my switch off day. I stay in school until six on a Friday, and try to get as much work done as possible so I don’t have much at the weekend. But come Sunday it's panic stations!”
  • “I don't work at home apart from occasionally a Saturday morning. I get to work at 7:30am and leave at 6.00pm. If it's not done, it's not done. You will burn out if you don't take time for yourself.”
  • “Make sure you have one day off at the weekend. As a teacher we can always do more, but we have to give ourselves time off.”
  • “Our new head brought in five minute lesson plans - absolutely brilliant- stops the weekly mind-set and makes planning more dynamic!”
  • “I work like a mad woman through the day - as you all do - and use 5 minute lesson plans, and therefore plan 1-2 days ahead.”
  • “It gets easier if you've taught in a year group previously. Last year was my first year in year 3 and this year is my second and already I can feel the difference!”

And there’s no surprise that the whole discussion group were united about Ofsted:

  • “We have Ofsted due at any moment. I am relatively new to the school and I do not want to let them down, but instead of it being 8am-6pm it really is becoming 24/7 - not good! Frown emoticon!”
  • “I was an NQT last year and I had absolutely no work/life balance... it didn't help that we had Ofsted. A 'requires improvement' judgement meant the pressure was huge. I was pulling 13/ 14 hour days and thought seriously about my future.  I felt like I couldn't cope and I couldn't think straight because I was so tired and I was never relaxed.”
  • "My attitude is that I don't want to look back on my life when I'm old and think "that was a waste, all I did was work". Life, your health, family and friends should mean as much and in fact more to you than your job."

To have a proper work life balance and a managed workload is not a benefit, but an entitlement that all educational professionals should expect. Even the government is starting to recognise that workload is a major issue leading to an unreasonable work life balance.

It's About Time

ATL's new campaign - It's about time - aims to empower our members and colleagues to find ways to tackle the issue, to reduce hours, to reduce unnecessary workload and to give professionals the time and trust back to make the maximum impact on pupils' learning.

  • Use our work-life tracker to get a sense of the drivers of workload for you and in your workplace, and how these and your work-life balance can change over time. Share the tracker with your colleagues and friends - we're trying to build a broad picture of the issue throughout the education sector, over many weeks and months.
  • Explore the help and advice on offer. We've developed some advice for some of the major problems that our members say are increasing their workload.
  • Take a whole school approach: find out how you can work with colleagues to deal with the specific workload issues that cause problems in your place of work.
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Workload and hours


I can't seem to get the tracker to work -I have tried it on apple devices and a laptop, but both seem to have issues. Is this a problem for others? Many thanks.

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