The real challenges of being a teacher are unbeknown to those not involved within the education sector. The profession is fraught with unacceptably long working hours, unrealistic deadlines and increasing administration expectations being placed on teachers by schools that are perceived to be in an almost constant state of flux. Those unique individuals that undertake the admirable challenge of making a real and profound difference to the lives of students around the world through the art of teaching need to be held in the highest regard and actively celebrated. Despite this, there are growing concerns in the UK that the task of being a teacher is slowly becoming impossible.
Are we running out of teachers?
We are at a time when teachers are leaving the profession faster than ever before, with 2 out of 5 teachers walking away from the classroom within three years of starting and the government missing their own teacher recruitment targets for 4 years in a row. Teachers are citing long working hours and unmanageable workloads as their main reasons for having had enough. Something has to change, and quickly, to address the current teacher shortage that schools are experiencing up and down the country. Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has said recently that the current situation is severe, adding that they were “jeopardising standards”.
Time to get radical
One school in Colchester, Essex has undertaken a profound approach to reduce the workload pressures on their teachers by trying to free up more of their time to plan their lessons more effectively. Ask any student the one thing they hate most about going to school, and they’re more likely to say the dreaded ‘H’ word – yes, homework!
We all know about the merits of testing your pupil’s ability to demonstrate their understanding of the course material while undertaking responsibility to proactively carry out work outside of the school environment. But is homework actually causing more unintended problems behind the scenes?
The Philip Morant School and College believes so, and has gone ahead and scrapped all homework. They’re not the first school in the country to ban homework, but in doing so they have told their staff that time previously spent allocating and assessing homework must now be spent on planning more inspirational and effective lessons.
School principal Catherine Hutley acknowledges that this is a controversial approach, but valiantly justifies her actions by acknowledging ‘there are not enough hours in the day for a teacher to teach, set homework, mark homework, and plan their lessons’. More worrying, Ms Hutley also suggested that homework at her school often consisted of unfinished curriculum work which had not been completed in class.
The approach, as expected, has not been met with universal approval, and it doesn’t mean pupils won’t be working from home. One parent has commented: ‘My daughter has never been a big fan of homework so she’s really chuffed about the new policy. But I’ve told her that it doesn’t meant she’s off the hook as I am going to make sure she’s still studying for a couple of nights each week.’
Are teachers actually teaching?
The very nature and expectations of what a teacher should be doing is not so subtlety hidden in their job title. They should be in the classroom with their students with the sole aim of imparting knowledge and helping them prepare for life ahead. One of the largest surveys by the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) revealed that teachers in England worked on average more than 48 hours a week, with one teacher in 10 reporting to working weeks of 65 hours or more. However, the survey also found that teachers only spent about 20 hours a week in the classroom with the remainder of their time doing administrative tasks, lesson preparation and marking homework. Even in the classroom, nearly 20% of teachers’ time is taken up with keeping order and further administration; just 16 hours of a 48-hour average full-time working week is spent on teaching and learning with pupils.
Tell us what you think!
What are the consequences of this? Yes, many students will be celebrating, parents may be unsure, and no doubt teachers will be in favour of having their workloads reduced somewhat. Is homework necessary and does it serve a beneficial purpose? A recent study published by the Department for Education found that homework made a positive difference to attainment, observing that ‘pupils who did two to three hours of homework a day were almost 10 times more likely to achieve five good GCSEs than students who did not spend any time on homework’.
This poses some serious questions. Do you feel homework is beneficial? Would a reduction or complete dismissal of homework fully address the real problems behind teachers leaving the profession and why they are working so many hours? What would the long-term consequences be if we removed homework from the fabric of the education system?
Let us have your thoughts below. We can’t wait to see them!