INTO survey exposes teacher burnout

Principals work an additional 600 hours a year outside school time while
90% of primary teachers are struggling with excessive workload

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has today published startling and sobering findings from an extensive research project on teacher workload and an audit of principals’ time, with nine out of 10 teachers reporting that teaching has become more “stressful”, “demanding”, “challenging”, “inflexible” and/or “hectic” in the last five years.

The report, soliciting detailed feedback from over 4,000 teachers and 1,100 school leaders, represents a sizable percentage of the entire teaching profession at primary level.

Key findings include:

  • 90% of teacher respondents to this research project said they struggle with a challenging workload.
  • Teachers are spending too much time on paperwork with no demonstrable effect on the quality of teaching and learning.
  • The workload of a teacher is ‘bursting at the seams’, with increasing demands, additional complexity and unrealistic expectations cited as common issues along with an overloaded curriculum and a tsunami of new initiatives.
  • School leaders work an average of 15 additional hours a week on school-related work outside their normal working hours; they work just under eight hours (mean avg.) per week during holidays.
  • School leaders report a detrimental impact on their occupational health and wellbeing, stemming from the difficulties in meeting the expectations of the role.
  • Both teachers and school principals expressed their deep dissatisfaction with the failure of the Department of Education (DE) to properly plan for teacher supply, and the DE’s removal of substitute cover for a number of approved teacher absences.

Launching the report, INTO General Secretary John Boyle emphasised:

The teaching profession in Ireland has been well regarded and respected for generations. If the Department of Education wants to ensure that Ireland retains its reputation for having a high-quality education system, they must urgently reduce the work overload which is putting huge strain on teachers and school leaders in primary and special schools.

“The right to disconnect is not sector-specific – all workers have this right, and the Government must ensure it is delivered to all those working in primary and special education. Government must recognise the damage that is being done to the profession with a never-ending list of new demands placed at the school door.

“As the framework for a revised primary curriculum comes into focus, the Irish Government has some decisions to make. They have failed to address our overcrowded classrooms and there continues to be a lack of a middle-management support structure in many schools. There is also an overload of initiatives. Significantly, the bureaucracy that creates obstacles to supporting inclusive education will jeopardise the effectiveness of the core purpose of teachers’ work – giving their best to the children in their classrooms. All of these factors act as barriers to further progress.

“The INTO is particularly concerned that the Department of Education has routinely failed to adopt a coherent plan to support equitable and sustainable workload in our primary and special schools. It is now time for a root-and-branch review of the systems and policies which underpin the delivery of primary education in this country.”

In response to the findings of this report, the INTO has today set out key recommendations to support teachers and principals. These include:

  • A fundamental review of the primary system to include a focus on school governance and school infrastructural supports.
  • The appointment of administrative principals in all schools with more than 10 staff, and to schools with special classes.
  • The provision of two leadership and management release days per week for teaching principals, together with release days for deputy principals, pro-rata, depending on school size.
  • Access to a HR advisory service for all principals to support them with such matters.
  • The need for teachers to collaborate and engage with continuous professional development and for whole-school planning to be recognised and accommodated by the education system.
  • The full restoration of assistant principal posts, many of which have been lost to schools since 2009.
  • Guidelines to be issued to inform planning for special education with less demands for paperwork from teachers

Workload Report –

Executive Summary –

Right to Disconnect

In April 2021, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) launched a Code of Practice for employers and employees on the Right to Disconnect. This notes that the right to be able to maintain clear boundaries between work and leisure is universal.

Following the publication of the WRC Code of Practice, a recommendation followed that all workplaces should work to develop a Right to Disconnect Policy that takes into account the particular needs of the business and its workforce.

While such a policy does not deal directly with workload, it is clearly a related issue. The Code of Practice developed by the WRC seeks to address cultures around communication and emphasises the importance of adopting policies to encourage best practice to support the wellbeing of all employees.

All schools are encouraged to adopt a ‘Right to Disconnect’ policy, in line the WRC Code of Practice.

The INTO has provided summary guidance on this matter in the Help and Advice section of the website, here. (Member login required)