The Working Lives of Teachers and Leaders

Sara Spinks 27 November 2023 4 min read
The Working Lives of Teachers and Leaders feature image

In this article, former headteacher Sara Spinks takes a critical look at the latest report on Teacher workload, which uses post-pandemic data from Spring 2022 and compares to the previous surveys of 2016 and 2019, as well as summarising what the key findings are for the current teacher and leader workforce.

Understanding the factors influencing teacher workloads is crucial as the education landscape continues to undergo dynamic changes. This article delves into the findings of the recent Teacher Workload Surveys conducted by the Department for Education (DfE) in 2019 and 2022, shedding light on the shifts in total working hours, teaching hours, job satisfaction, and overall well-being among educators.

The Working Lives of Teachers and Leaders - wave 1: Core Report ( surveyed 11,177 teachers and leaders during one week in the Spring of 2022, post-pandemic.

We all know that the pandemic has changed many aspects of people's lives, including attitudes to work.

So, how do the pre- and post-pandemic surveys compare?

Total Hours Spent Working:

  • In 2019, the average total self-reported working hours for teachers and middle leaders were 49.5 hours, a decline from 54.4 hours in 2016. By 2022, this figure further decreased to 48.7 hours.
  • Primary teachers and middle leaders reported a decrease from 55.5 hours in 2016 to 49.1 hours in 2022.
  • Secondary teachers and middle leaders declined from 53.5 hours in 2016 to 48.5 hours in 2022.
  • Leaders reported working more hours on average (56.8) than teachers (48.7), with significant increases among headteachers, especially in secondary schools (60.5).

Average Hours Spent Teaching:

  • Post-pandemic, teacher workloads continued to decrease, but leader workloads increased.
  • All teachers across sectors reported spending more hours teaching than before the pandemic.

Non-Teaching Tasks:

  • Two-thirds of teachers reported spending over half of their working time on non-teaching tasks, with secondary teachers dedicating more time to these tasks than their primary counterparts.
  • General administrative work, such as communication, paperwork, and emails, significantly contributed to increased workload.

Satisfaction and Time Management Strategies:

  • Most teachers and leaders disagreed that their workload was acceptable (72%) and that they had sufficient control over it (62%).
  • Schools employed various time management strategies, with Planning, Preparation, and Assessment (PPA) time being the most commonly reported (93%).
  • Flexible working arrangements were embraced by 40% of teachers and leaders, positively impacting life satisfaction.

Well-Being and Job Satisfaction:

  • Well-being levels among teachers and leaders were lower than the general population, with an increase in anxiety post-pandemic.
  • Most reported experiencing stress at work (86%), with leaders, especially headteachers, experiencing higher stress levels.
  • Job dissatisfaction with pay and salary structures was prevalent among teachers (61%).

Consideration of Leaving the Sector:

  • Alarmingly, 25% of teachers and leaders were contemplating leaving the state school sector in the next 12 months.
  • Reasons cited included high workload (92%), government initiatives or policy changes (76%), pressures related to pupil outcomes or Ofsted inspection (69%), and dissatisfaction with pay (57%).

So, considering all this data, what are the future plans for teachers and leaders?

Sadly, 25% of teachers and leaders reported that they were considering leaving the state school sector in the next 12 months for other reasons than retirement.

This was highest in:

  • the secondary sector (28%)
  • 31% of men
  • 27% of those aged 35-44
  • Those teaching the specific subjects of computing (38%), performing arts (36%), business/ economics (34%) and sciences (30%)
  • Those working in a school in an Ofsted category of serious weaknesses or special measures (33%)
  • Those working in schools who rated behaviour as ‘poor’ (37%)

The most commonly reported reason for considering leaving the state sector was high workload (92%), followed by government initiatives or policy change (76%), pressures related to pupil outcomes or Ofsted inspection (69%) and dissatisfaction with pay (57%).

Amongst leaders, the highest reason was government initiatives and policy change (80%), whereas it was the high workload for Early Career Teachers (91%).

Finally, the report tested the key drivers that must be addressed to limit the number of people wishing to leave. The following are key indicators from people who wish to leave:

  • Sufficient control over workload
  • Feeling valued by school
  • Satisfaction with life
  • Acceptable workload
  • Feeling things done in life are worthwhile
  • Satisfaction with long-term salary prospects
  • Feeling managers are considerate of work-life balance
  • Feeling managers are considerate of work-life balance
  • Impact of CPD on the ability to perform the role
  • Age


The survey highlights educators' complex challenges in managing workloads and maintaining well-being. Addressing key indicators is essential for retaining talent and fostering a positive educational environment in the post-pandemic era.

On a personal note, this report resonates well. My daughter left teaching last year at the end of her second year. A successful, dedicated teacher already promoted in an Ofsted ‘Good’ all-girl secondary academy. The reasons? Because she said where else do we work where the more experienced you become, the less you are wanted as budgets tighten and where else do we work where you have no work-life balance?

She has retrained as a software engineer, works from home, has every evening to pursue her hobbies and passions and earns three times more with ever-improving prospects. Sadly, a great talent lost to the children she inspired and taught so well.

Sara Spinks

SSS Author & Former Headteacher

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