Teachers overwhelmingly back the idea of a shorter working week to prevent burnout and keep them in schools, a survey suggests.

Almost three quarters of those polled in a UK study said they were “strongly” or “somewhat” supportive of moving to a 32-hour, four-day arrangement with no reduction in pay.

Researchers have revealed the figure north of the Border was even higher, at 79 per cent.

The findings were obtained by Survation and published in a report by independent think tank Autonomy. They come amid acute concern over Covid-related workloads and fears that schools will haemorrhage talent as exhaustion drives teachers to quit.

In total, more than 500 primary and secondary school staff took part in the survey. The Scottish sub-sample (29) was small. However, experts said trends here broadly mirrored those elsewhere in the UK.

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Jack Kellam, Autonomy researcher and one of the report’s co-authors, urged Scottish policy makers to look at ways of shortening the school week.

He said: “Teachers in Scotland are suffering from a chronic crisis of overwork.

"Continually putting in some of the UK’s longest working hours, wellbeing levels in the profession are worryingly low. Over two-thirds of teachers have felt at ‘breaking point’ in the last year because of their job, with 28% in Scotland citing stress as a daily experience. Long hours make it difficult to hire and retain staff, and negatively affect the classroom experience.”

Teachers who participated in the UK-level research think a restructured working week will have a range of positive effects. Nearly 70% said fewer hours would make them more likely to stay in their profession.

Staff are also keen to see the four-day week become part of a wider rebalancing of working time. This would involve a move away from meetings, general administration, and marking, and a greater focus on building student and family relationships, collaborating with colleagues, and professional development.

Moreover, educators believe the change would be beneficial for students. Sixty-one per cent of those polled said it would improve the quality of teaching, while 57% believe it will ameliorate the broader working culture at school.

HeraldScotland: Most respondents feel any restructure of the working week should apply to pupils as well as staff.Most respondents feel any restructure of the working week should apply to pupils as well as staff.

The findings suggest there is strong support for ensuring any adoption of a four-day week applies across the board. Forty-five per cent of survey respondents backed extending it to teachers and pupils. This compares with 27% who would like to see the change limited to staff, with schools remaining open for five days.  

Mr Kellam said: “Reducing working hours in education has the potential to not only keep teachers in their jobs, but improve the educational environment in schools across the board.”

Autonomy said the four-day week idea had already taken root overseas. Rural areas in the US – among them Idaho, New Mexico and Oklahoma - have seen over 1,600 schools make the change, although this has often resulted in a longer class timetable between Monday and Thursday.

Nevertheless, research indicates shorter working weeks in the US help to retain teachers. They are also popular with parents and pupils.

Autonomy's report claims there are few legal barriers that would make it difficult for a learning establishment here to restructure the working week if this was attractive to senior management and the wider school community. However, they acknowledge careful consideration would have to be given to how a teacher’s allocated time might need to be “altered or re-evaluated to best fit the new schedule”.

A handful of secondary schools belonging to the Community Schools Trust (CST) in East London have already introduced a shorter, four-and-a-half-day week following simple structural adjustments to the class timetable.

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The change, which saw Friday afternoon’s lessons removed, means a longer day on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. However, an hour of “pastoral” provision has been dropped, leaving teachers with a net one-hour gain out of the classroom every week. Autonomy’s report notes that, over the course of a 40-week school year, there are an additional 40 hours of free time for teachers - or the equivalent of nearly two weeks’ extra holiday.

Simon Elliott, CST chief executive, said pupil grades “went up the year after a shorter working week was introduced”. He added: “We surveyed staff a year on - nobody wanted to go back. It has been a resounding success.” Already, the Trust's Forest Gate Community School - which brought in the change initially - is consulting on whether to reduce its week further.  

Union figures noted some Scottish schools were already operating under “asymmetrical” arrangements, with a shorter day on Fridays. They also said there had been no major push from members for an immediate four-day week campaign and suggested the focus would instead be on boosting staff retention through measures such as smaller class sizes.

They added that any scheme aimed at schools would have to be part of a wider, societal shift to avoid creating childcare and employment challenges for parents.

HeraldScotland: Larry Flanagan, EIS general secretary, said his union would be keen to see exploration of how a four-day week might work.Larry Flanagan, EIS general secretary, said his union would be keen to see exploration of how a four-day week might work.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary at the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), stressed his union was "in broad support of the Scottish Trades Union Congress call for exploration of a four-day week as a means of creating a better work-life balance".

He said: “Unfortunately, excessive workload, leading to stress and eventual burnout, is a feature of teaching, as highlighted in the recent EIS member survey.

“We have called for smaller class sizes as one way to tackle this but would be open to any approaches which improve teacher well-being as ultimately such improvements would support more effective teaching and learning.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We take teachers’ workload and their health and wellbeing seriously. That is why we are committed to reducing teachers’ class contact time by 90 minutes per week to give them more time to plan and ease their workload.

"Since October 2020, we have invested over £2 million in supporting teacher wellbeing.

“Teachers’ terms and conditions of employment are negotiated through the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT), and agreed by all three SNCT partners – the teaching unions, local government employers and the Scottish Government.”