5. Should teachers’ working hours be increased or decreased?

In order to control public spending and to ensure quality education, the use of teachers must be optimised. There are several possibilities for doing so, one of them being to increase the working hours of teachers in order to reduce the number of posts and so recruitments.

The strong variations observed in the statutory working hours of teachers among countries offer an interesting perspective of comparison. In fact, regulations in most countries in Europe and Asia require between 1,600 and 1,800 hours of work from their teachers per annum, whereas those in force in sub-Saharan Africa generally provide for between 800 and 1,300 hours per annum (UNESCO-ISU, 2006) and there are great disparities between the different African countries as to the official working hours. However, some precautions are to be taken when comparing these data. It is indeed complex to truly grasp the hours worked by teachers: teaching hours must be taken into account but also the time devoted to lesson preparation, support and consultation with the rest of the pedagogical team.

In addition, any reflection on teachers’ working hours must take into account the fact that the statutory hours do not always correspond to the actual working hours of in-post teachers. It is therefore useful to raise the question of the optimal utilisation of teaching staff in the schools. This depends on many factors: effective timetable management at school level but also school size and structure, teacher versatility, job flexibility. The importance of these factors illustrates why it is just as relevant to speak of the “class effect” as of the “teacher effect”, given the decisive nature of the environment of each class.

It should also be asked if the official instruction time reflects the actual number of hours of lessons received by the pupils. Indeed, some developing countries face a major problem of teacher absenteeism, which deprives pupils of 8 to 25% of their annual instruction time (UNESCO, 2008). Increasing working hours could make matters worse, if not accompanied by a change in behaviours. 

Introducing a measure to increase working hours is therefore complex. If supporting measures (small salary increases or other compensation; assistance in some tasks, etc.) are not taken into account, then there is a risk of increasing teacher absenteeism and lowering their motivation but also of reducing the time teachers spend preparing lessons, correcting pupils’ work and consulting with the rest of the pedagogical team.
Indeed, in a perspective of budget restrictions, an increase in teachers’ working hours would be synonymous of an increase in the time they must devote to teaching. Now, the higher the number of hours of instruction, the less time teachers have to prepare their lessons, which is detrimental to quality (Duflo, Dupas, and Kremer 2012; Burns and Darling-Hammond, 2014). They also have less time to devote to working with the rest of the pedagogical team, which is however essential for teacher satisfaction (Burns, D. and Darling-Hammond, L., 2014) and the quality of a school (OECD, 2009).

Finally, any reform concerning teachers’ working hours must be preceded by a precise study of the national context. An eloquent example is that of the USA, where teaching time is considered as very high compared to other countries (OECD, 2014: 387). Firstly, the data are often biased in these studies and tend to overestimate the differences in working hours (Abrams, 2015). Next, some maintain that the main problem with the American education system is not teachers’ working hours but the time teachers devote, in class, to the preparation of the national standardised tests (Sparks, 2015). In this case, a reform of working hours, based on international comparisons, would not be a relevant strategy.



Abrams, S. E. 2015. The Mismeasure of Teaching Time. Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education Teachers College. NYC: Columbia University.
Burns, D.; Darling-Hammond, L. 2014. Teaching Around the World: What Can TALIS Tell Us? Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.
Duflo, E.; Dupas, P.; Kremer, M. 2012. School Governance, Teacher Incentives, and Pupil-Teacher Ratios: Experimental Evidence from Kenyan Primary Schools. w17939. National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17939.
OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). 2009. Creating Effective Teaching and Learning Environments: First Results from TALIS – Executive summary. Paris: OECD Publishing.
OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). 2014. TALIS 2013 results: An international perspective on teaching and learning. Paris: OECD Publishing.
Sparks, S. D. 2015. ‘Do U.S. Teachers Really Teach More Hours?’ In: Education Week, Vol 34, Issue 20, 12-13. 
UNESCO-UIS. 2006. Les enseignants et la qualité de l’éducation: suivi des besoins mondiaux d’ici 2015. Montreal.
UNESCO. 2008. EFA Global monitoring report 2008 – Education for all by 2015 : Will we make it? Paris: UNESCO.