Here’s why UK teachers need a four-day week

by Jack Kellam | @KellamJack | Autonomy
Thursday, 20 January 2022 11:44 GMT

A teacher hands out face masks to students on the first day back at school, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown begins to ease, at Fulham Boys School in London, Britain, March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs

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Around the world, more and more organisations have begun to realise that a four-day working week can drastically raise worker wellbeing and improve performance

By Jack Kellam, Researcher at Autonomy and co-author of ‘Four Day Week for Schools’

British teachers are in the middle of an overwork crisis. Continually clocking some of the country’s longest hours, levels of health and wellbeing in the profession are dangerously low. What’s left is a burned-out workforce who feel unwell, exhausted and are considering leaving their jobs at frightening rates

In recent polling with Survation, we found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of UK teachers felt “at breaking point” at some point in the previous year. Shockingly, the 2020 Teacher Wellbeing Index also found that 74% of all education professionals had experienced negative behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to their work, while nearly a third had faced a mental health issue in the prior 12 months.

This status quo is unsustainable. However, governments around the UK appear determined to head in the opposite direction. In both the English and Welsh education systems, recent policy has seen moves towards longer school days and greater workloads for teachers. Continuing to improve educational attainment in pupils is crucial, but we ought to recognise that an urgent reduction in teachers’ working time represents the most direct means to achieve this.

Urgent problems require bold solutions. Moving burned-out UK teachers to a four-day week, with no reduction in pay, should be seriously considered by policy makers. In our polling, we found that a four-day week programme is overwhelmingly popular with teachers. Almost 75% supported the policy, with many teachers recognising that the transformative effect shorter hours could have within education. Additionally, 61% of teachers believed a four-day week would improve their teaching, while 69% thought that a shorter week would make them more likely to stay in the profession.

The potential benefits of shorter working hours for teachers are already clear to see. Alongside four-day week school systems in parts of the United States, Forest Gate Community School in East London (along with other schools within its educational trust) have all moved to a four-and-a-half-day week with impressive results. Staff feel more rested and the students’ educational experience benefits as a result as 98% backed the policy in a follow-up survey.

Tom Leather, a PE teacher at Forest Gate, stated, “knowing we’re allowed to leave at 12.10pm on Friday means that morale is better. Happier teachers work harder and produce better days”. This is backed up by the evidence. Since moving to a shorter working week, Forest Gate achieved an ‘Outstanding’ inspection result.

Around the world, more and more organisations have begun to realise that a four-day working week can drastically raise worker wellbeing and improve performance. While these have often been pioneered in office workplaces such as creative or knowledge-based industries, as trials of shorter hours in Iceland’s public sector have shown, the benefits of reduced working time can be felt just as much in settings like schools or hospitals. 

We know that teachers’ desperately need a reduction in their working time - and the benefits for staff and students alike are clear. Rather than adding more hours to teachers’ timetables, we should be pushing for a four-day working week.

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