Press release

Reduce working hours to tackle teacher retention, suggests new research

20 March 2018

According to a new study by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), teachers work the longest hours at 50 hours per week during term time, followed by police officers (44) and nurses (39). Working long hours over prolonged periods, as teachers are doing, can create pressure and stress, with potential negative effects on health and well-being, all of which may impact on staff retention.

The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, looks at how the teaching profession compares to nursing and policing - two of the other large and important public sector professions. Pay caps and job pressures have reportedly fuelled staff shortages across the public sector. Using Understanding Society survey data, NFER examined how full time teachers compare to full time nurses and police officers. Comparing the characteristics of each profession’s workforce, earnings, hours worked and job satisfaction, the research found that working hours is still a matter of concern for teachers.

It shows that the long hours that teachers work during term time exceed the amount of extra holiday time they may receive. Even after taking account of school holidays, full-time teachers still work the equivalent of 45 hours per week.

The study also found that teachers’ average hourly pay (in real terms, after adjusting for inflation) has decreased by 15 per cent since 2009/10. Over the same period, average hourly pay has fallen by 4 and 11 per cent for nurses and police officers. However, despite longer working hours and a background of falling real-terms pay, teachers remain satisfied with their jobs and incomes, but not with their amount of leisure time.

According to the analysis:

NFER Chief Executive, Carole Willis, said of NFER’s findings: “This is an important piece of research to gain insight into whether the difficulties faced in recruitment and retention are unique to teaching or common to other professions in the public sector. Our analysis shows that long working hours is one of the main barriers to improving teacher retention, an issue that is consistent with our previous reports in this series, and that working hours have been increasing over the last five years. Therefore, we recommend that further work to reduce the working hours of teachers should be a priority for school leaders and the Government.”

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation said: “Without action to reduce working hours, financial incentives to attract new teachers will be limited in the extent to which they can tackle the supply crisis, as teachers will continue to leave the profession in high numbers. Recent recognition by the Secretary of State of the need to address teacher workload is welcome, but this research shows that a more ambitious action plan is required, particularly in the context of rising student numbers.”

The full findings from Research Update 4: How do teachers compare to nurses and police officers? can be found on NFER’s website along with previous research reports in this Teacher Retention and Turnover series. A final report will be published in summer 2018. To register your interest in this project, please visit: For more on NFER’s work in the School Workforce area, visit


For further information please contact: Sundip Gill 01753 637218 or Jane Parrack 01753 637245.

Notes to editors

  1. Hillary, J., Andrade, J. and Worth, J. (2018). Teacher Retention and Turnover Research. Research Update 4: How do teachers compare to nurses and police officers? Slough: NFER.
  2. This Research Update is the fifth publication from a major new research project by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), which is funded by a grant from the Nuffield Foundation. The project aims to gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics within the teacher workforce in England. The study will inform policy makers and system leaders to help formulate effective responses to this complex issue and meet the challenge of increasing demand for teachers. We have already published some evidence-based outputs, which provide insights about where policy interventions and practice might usefully focus. The first two Research Updates presented differences in teacher retention rates by the subject they teach and explored teacher redeployment within multi-academy trusts. Our Interim Report explored factors associated with teacher retention and turnover and offered recommendations for policy makers on how to improve retention. In our most recent Research Update, we looked at the motivations of teachers who leave the profession.
  3. Understanding Society is an innovative and internationally important study following the lives of people living in the UK. It is the largest longitudinal study of its kind and provides crucial information for researchers and policy makers on the causes and consequences of change in people’s lives. Understanding Society is underpinned by world-leading methodological research. Researchers have access to high-quality designed and harvested data supported by innovative experimentation, development and testing.
  4. NFER is a leading independent provider of rigorous research and insights in education, working to create an excellent education for all children and young people. We are a not-for-profit organisation and our robust and innovative research, assessments and other services are widely known and used by key decision-makers. Any surplus generated is reinvested in projects to support our charitable purpose. @theNFER
  5. The Nuffield Foundation is an endowed charitable trust that aims to improve social well-being in the widest sense. It funds research and innovation in education and social policy and also works to build capacity in education, science and social science research. The Nuffield Foundation is funding this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation. More information is available at