The Education Secretary has said teachers should not have to email outside of office hours and should instead embrace innovative technology such as AI to help to reduce their workload.
In a speech, addressing more than 800 of the world’s leading tech companies and start-ups, as well as school representatives and international education ministers, Mr Hinds told teachers and school leaders to make smarter use of technology, both inside and outside of the classroom, to make sure that it does not add to teachers’ responsibilities.
The Education Secretary said that while education technology has the power to transform education, its growth in the classroom has created both opportunities and challenges.
Citing emails and the impact it has had on working lives, he said: “More than half of teachers’ time is spent on non-teaching tasks, including planning, marking and admin, and that workload is one of the most common reasons for teachers leaving the profession.
“Education is one of the few sectors where technology has been associated with an increase in workload rather than the reverse. And let’s think why.
“Back when I was at school there was an annual parents evening and a report at the end of the year, maybe a letter home if there was a school trip. That report still happens and so does the parents evening, but email has revolutionised parent, teacher communication. Email hasn’t replaced much; mostly it has just added.
“I’m sure none of us now could imagine a life without email, but do we ever stop to think how much of our day is actually spent reading or replying to them?”
He continued: “Many schools are already reviewing their school practices to reduce workload – and to those who haven’t already, I encourage them to look at what they can do to shift away from an email culture…to free teachers up to spend more time in the classroom.”
Samantha Randal, a Solicitor and employment expert with Palmers, said: “In France, employees have the legal ‘right to disconnect’ from work out of hours. Companies with more than 50 workers are obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails. France also has a shorter working week than the UK.
“Whilst it appears unlikely that the UK will follow France’s lead by passing legislation to restrict out of hours emails, it is important that schools give careful consideration to the issue.
“It may well be that school policies need to be looked at and, where necessary, redrafted to outline what is considered reasonable, for the avoidance of doubt and to ensure that staff goodwill is not abused by persistent out of hours contact.
“Who knows, the day may soon come when, in addition to the email message: “Consider the environment – think before you print” we will also see “Consider your staff – think before you press send.”