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Title: Workload, accountability and stress : a comparative study of teachers' working conditions in state and private schools in England
Author: Brady, Judith
ISNI:       0000 0004 9354 1219
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2020
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England’s state education system is in the midst of a teacher retention crisis. Stressed teachers are leaving state schools citing intensive monitoring and burdensome workloads, propelled by the perceived demands of hard accountability systems as their core reasons. There is a net flow of teachers into the private education sector which runs in an ancillary sphere to the public sector. However, very little is known about teachers’ experiences in private schools. The research takes the view that in a time of a state school teacher retention crisis, it is pertinent to look across the sectoral divide to compare conditions between the sectors and consider what each might learn from the other. Through questionnaires with over 800 practitioners, the mixed-methods study achieves a novel overview of teacher workload, stress, and experiences of teacher monitoring systems across sectors. It finds that in comparison to state school teachers, those in private schools are significantly less stressed and hold better perceptions of their workload despite working a similar number of weekly hours. In depth interviews and focus group discussions with 51 teachers provide further insight into these findings. These qualitative data were analysed through a Foucauldian lens, and this analysis foregrounded the damaging effects of high-stakes accountability and economic discourses in the state sector. Teachers who felt misaligned with these overarching values felt stressed and experienced their work as burdensome and meaningless. However, through comparison with the private sector, it was evident that it was possible for teachers to experience their work as fulfilling despite working long hours during the term-time. The research provides an original contribution to knowledge because it is one of the first to offer overview and insight into the work of private school teachers. Furthermore, it presents a fresh look at state education through comparison with the private sector. In this way, the research illuminates the kinds of systemic changes, such as peer-review inspections, possible within the English context which could help teachers to maintain positive perceptions of their workload. It ultimately suggests that the current high-stakes accountability systems of England’s state education system must be softened in order to allow teachers to refocus on the work that they find most meaningful: that which benefits pupils.
Supervisor: Wilson, Elaine Sponsor: University of Cambridge
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: stress ; workload ; accountability ; teachers ; England ; independent schools ; private schools ; independent schools sector