Schools' responses to Covid-19: Job satisfaction and workload of teachers and senior leaders

Matt Walker, Caroline Sharp and David Sims

26 June 2020

Prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, England faced a considerable teacher recruitment and retention challenge. There was a concern that when schools were ordered to close to all but vulnerable children and the children of keyworkers in March 2020, this might have resulted in an increase in working hours. And as working hours were already high, it could drive more teachers to leave the profession. This report is designed to shed some light on the immediate effects of the pandemic on senior leaders’ and teachers’ working lives.

Based on the findings of a national survey of over 3000 school leaders and teachers in mainstream schools in England, this report complements others in the same series which have looked at returning pupils to school, pupil engagement in remote learning, and support for vulnerable pupils and the children of keyworkers.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on many aspects of senior leaders’ and teachers’ working lives, including their working hours, job satisfaction, and sources of pressure and support.

Key Findings

Working hours

  • There is a wide distribution of working hours, particularly among senior leaders. The majority (71 per cent) of senior leaders are still working more than 40 hours per week, and 41 per cent are working more than 50 hours per week. Amongst teachers, 11 per cent are working more than 50 hours a week. Although working hours have reduced overall, this masks a variety of different experiences across the school workforce.
  • On average, senior leaders and teachers who responded to our survey were working fewer hours during lockdown in May than they did in a typical week in February 2020. Overall, senior leaders reported working a mean average of 52.4 hours in a ‘typical week’ in February 2020, compared to 47.8 hours in the last full week that they worked since the lockdown on 20 March 2020. This represents an average reduction of 4.6 hours per working week. Compared to leaders, teachers experienced a larger drop in working hours, on average. They were working an average of 45.8 hours in a ‘typical week’ in February 2020, compared to 34.4 hours in the last full week that they worked since the lockdown on 20 March; an average reduction of 11.5 hours per working week. It is likely that some senior leaders and teachers have needed to reduce their working hours to attend to other responsibilities such as caring for family members. In our first report in this series, senior leaders told us that they only had 75 per cent of their usual teaching capacity available.
  • Most senior leaders were finding their working hours during lockdown at least somewhat manageable, although a notable minority were not. Forty-three per cent of senior leaders found the hours they were working (in May) were ‘mostly/completely manageable’, while 33 per cent say they were ‘somewhat manageable’. In contrast, 24 per cent consider their workload ‘mostly/completely unmanageable’.
  • Most teachers who responded were finding their working hours in May manageable, with 62 per cent saying they were ‘mostly/completely manageable’ and 24 per cent saying they were ‘somewhat manageable’. Fourteen per cent say their working hours were ‘mostly/completely unmanageable’. These findings compare favourably to previous estimates of the manageability of teachers’ workloads.

Job satisfaction

  • Most senior leaders and teachers are at least somewhat satisfied with their jobs, although a greater proportion of senior leaders are dissatisfied than teachers. The findings show that 36 per cent of senior leaders and 39 per cent of teachers were ‘satisfied/completely satisfied’ with their jobs in May 2020. By contrast, 31 per cent of senior leaders and 22 per cent of teachers said they were ‘not satisfied/not at all satisfied’ with their jobs. This level of dissatisfaction appears higher than found in previous research.
  • Job satisfaction is associated with autonomy and support. Senior leaders and teachers who report they feel more in control of their work, despite the disruptive effects of Covid-19, are also more likely to have higher job satisfaction. Senior leaders who have received good support from MAT senior leaders or LA services, and teachers who have helpful senior leaders and colleagues are more likely to have higher job satisfaction. Lower job satisfaction is associated with greater personal and work-related pressures.

Sources of pressure

  • It is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic is placing some senior leaders and teachers under additional pressures. Many of these are work-related, but some are personal, such as parenting their own young children, and working from home. For senior leaders responding to the survey in May, the three main sources of pressure impacting on them were: ‘concerns about opening the school more fully in future’ (86 per cent), the ‘health and well-being of my staff’ (76 per cent), and ‘directives from government’ (67 per cent). As these challenges are placing pressure on senior leaders, the findings reinforce the need for schools and government to continue to prioritise the health and well-being of staff as well as pupils.
  • The main pressures felt by teachers were: ‘being responsible for estimating pupils’ examination grades’ (36 per cent of secondary teachers), ‘parenting my own young children’ (25 per cent of all teachers), and ‘difficulties supporting pupils’ remote learning’ (23 per cent of all teachers).

Sources of support
Senior leaders and teachers are drawing on a range of different sources of support to help them manage the current crisis and are finding some more helpful than others.

    • Most senior leaders are accessing support from ‘local authority (LA) services’ (88 per cent), ‘my professional association’ (83 per cent), and ‘senior leaders from other schools’ (77 per cent). Most teachers are accessing support from ‘my colleagues/ peers’ (97 per cent); ‘senior leaders from my school’ (94 per cent), and ‘my union’ (57 per cent).
    • Senior leaders are getting good support from their colleagues in other schools. Of those who have received support from multi-academy trust (MAT) senior leaders, most found this ‘very/extremely helpful’ (61 per cent). Similarly, of those who have received support from senior leaders from other schools, 60 per cent found this ‘very/extremely helpful’. On the other hand, the least helpful source accessed by senior leaders is ‘LA services’. While 26 per cent of senior leaders who had received this support found it ‘very/extremely helpful’, a substantial minority (30 per cent) found it ‘not very/not at all helpful’. The single most helpful type of support accessed by teachers is ‘my colleagues/peers’, with 73 per cent of those receiving this support finding it ‘very/extremely helpful’.


Sponsor Details

Nuffield Foundation