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Contented and Committed?

A survey of quality of working life amongst teachers

Linda Sturman



This study builds on earlier work at the National Foundation for Educational Research to develop a questionnaire to measure employees’ perceived quality of working life. The questionnaire was standardised with a ‘norm group’ of employees in a variety of occupations, and proved to be a reliable measure of i n d i v i d u a l s ’ perceptions of their working life. It has been used in this study to assess the quality of working life of primary and secondary teachers and to compare their experience with that of the norm group.


  • Teachers have more job satisfaction than other workers, but are neutral about job commitment.
  • Teachers experience job security and are satisfied with communication in their schools.
  • Teachers feel well supported at work and have positive working relationships with colleagues.
  • Teachers are dissatisfied with their salaries and report more stre s s than other employees.
  • Secondary teachers would like m o re responsibility and involvement but primary teachers are undecided about this.
  • Roles and responsibilities impact on quality of working life, as do hours worked.
  • Senior staff in primary schools enjoy a higher quality of working life than others in several respects , although primary headteachers feel unsupported.
  • Job commitment is affected by levels of job satisfaction and stre s s in both sectors, and by levels of support in primary schools.

    A two-part questionnaire was devised. The first part incorporated the Quality of Working Life Questionnaire ( N F E R -N E L S O N, 2001),1 which presented 53 statements about aspects of working life and asked respondents to rate from 1–5 the extent to which they agreed with each statement. The 53 statements addressed seven distinct ‘scales’ (see Table 1). The second part of the questionnaire collected background information, in order to allow comparison of teachers in different contexts. It also included questions that allowed an eighth scale to be devised, measuring job commitment.



    Questionnaires were sent out to schools in England in the second week of April 2002. One hundred secondary schools and 200 primary schools were selected as part of a random, ‘stratified’ sample, which was representative in terms of school type and test/exam performance.

    Headteachers in the secondary schools were asked to distribute questionnaires to ten teachers each and those in the primary schools to five teachers each. Thus, a maximum of 1,000 teachers from each sector could have received a questionnaire. A randomised system of distribution was used.

    Completed questionnaires were returned by 285 teachers in 53 secondary schools and by 389 teachers in 129 primary schools. These schools were representative in terms of exam performance, but less so in terms of school type.

    Teachers’ Views of Their Quality of Working Life

    Scale scores for job satisfaction, challenge, use of skills and autonomy

    Scale scores were calculated, giving scores for each of the seven scales for the whole sample and also for primary and secondary teachers separately. These indicated how satisfied teachers were with each of the seven aspects of their working life (see Table 1).

    Scales were coded such that a high score denotes a positive response. ‘Not applicable’responses and ‘missing’ responses (i.e. those where no response was made) were recoded to correspond with the ‘neither agree nor disagree’ response category. All differences reported were statistically significant.

    Teachers indicated above-average levels of satisfaction (a scale mean per statement of 3.59). Primary teachers showed higher levels of satisfaction than did secondary teachers, although both scored more highly than the norm group (3.28). Job satisfaction among teachers is greater than in the general population.

    Nevertheless, job satisfaction does not necessarily equate with job commitment. The job commitment scale was based on ratings for two statements: ‘I often think about leaving my job’ and ‘I will probably look for a new job in the next year’. Responses to each statement were coded to form five-point scales denoting strong agreement, agreement, neutrality, disagreement or strong disagreement. Responses were totalled and, on the resulting possible scale of 2–10, the mean was 6.07. This relatively neutral outcome showed no significant difference between primary and secondary teachers. Clearly, teaching can be a satisfying job, but other factors appear to be involved in creating a commitment to that job in a particular school.

    Scale scores for communication, decision-making and job security

    Primary teachers scored more highly than secondary teachers on this scale. As before, both scored more highly than the norm group (3.44 per statement on average, against 3.08). Teachers feel more satisfied with these aspects than do employees in general.

    This is exemplified by the fact that approximately threequarters of respondents agreed with the statements ‘I feel that my job provides me with a secure future’ and ‘I feel I know about the goals of my organisation’. However, the statement ‘My organisation often makes decisions that concern or puzzle me’ drew a more mixed response, indicating uncertain views about some aspects of communication.

    Scale scores for support from manager/supervisor

    Teachers scored above the mid-point once again. Primary teachers scored more highly (3.35) than the norm group (3.03), but secondary teachers’ scores (3.11) were similar to the norm.

    While the majority of teachers agreed with statements such as ‘The feedback I receive from my manager/supervisor is c o n s t ru c t i v e’ and ‘My manager/supervisor is open to different ways of working’, they also agreed that ‘I would like to receive more credit for the work I do well’. Opinions were divided over statements such as ‘When I am under pressure, this is usually recognised and dealt with by my supervisor manager’ and ‘My manager/supervisor deals fairly with all employees’. This suggests that, even though support is generally perceived to be satisfactory, perceptions vary and there are specific areas where teachers feel that improvements could be made.

    Scale scores for freedom from work-related stress

    Working under pressure is a key issue for both primary and secondary teachers. Aside from the job commitment scale, this scale is the only one showing no significant differences (at the 5% level) between primary and secondary teachers. It is also one of only two scales where the norm group scored more highly than teachers (a mean of 3.16 per statement against 2.24). Teachers experience a lower level of ‘freedom from work-related stress’or, in other words, a higher level of stress than is seen among employees generally.

    However, despite general agreement that ‘My work is often a source of stress to me’ and disagreement that ‘My workload is generally reasonable’, teachers showed more variety in their response to statements such as ‘I always feel tired at work’ and ‘I often wake up at night worrying about work’. While teachers agree that their work is stressful, their personal responses to this vary.

    Scale scores for salary and additional benefits

    This is the second of the two scales where the norm group scores more highly than teachers (a mean of 2.74 per statement against 2.25). Even so, mean scores for both groups fall on the negative side of the scale. Although employees in general are more positive than teachers about their salary, and primary teachers are more positive than secondary teachers, all groups nevertheless feel that improvements are desirable.

    Scale scores for relationships with work colleagues

    This scale drew the most positive responses of all. The norm group scored highly on this scale (3.71 per statement on average), but teachers scored more highly again (3.94). Once again, primary teachers rated this aspect more highly than did secondary teachers.

    Scale scores for involvement and responsibility at work

    Primary teachers were ambivalent about involvement and responsibility at work (a mean score of 3.00 per statement), although they scored more highly than the norm group (2.70). Secondary teachers felt negatively about this aspect (2.74). They would like to take more responsibility and to become more involved in the work of their schools.

    Correlations show that the seven scales are interrelated. Some of the ambivalent ‘Involvement’ responses might have been affected by interaction with the Freedom from Stress and Job Satisfaction scales. If, for example, a teacher agrees that ‘I would like more opportunities to contribute to decisions at work’ this might affect that teacher’s workload. Given the low score on the Freedom from Stress scale, it may be that some teachers disagreed with such statements with this in mind. Others might have agreed with such statements from a diff e r e n t perspective, whereby more involvement might mean more job satisfaction.


    Additional analysis showed which variables might help to explain responses to questions on a given scale, and how important they might be in determining those responses. Table 2 lists the factors investigated.

    The analysis identified several variables that appeared to be related to outcomes. However, some caution is needed in interpreting the results. The number of variables investigated was large, which can mask some effects and artificially create others. Additionally, the explanatory value of some variables is limited. Outcomes on some scales may be affected by personal or other factors as well as by professional ones.

    Nevertheless, some relatively consistent findings emerge. Two variables (role and hours worked) were related to several scales. Senior staff in both primary and secondary schools scored more highly than other staff on four scales (Job Satisfaction, Communication, Salary, and Involvement). In both primary and secondary schools, deputy headteachers felt well supported. However, in primary schools, headteachers felt unsupported. Furthermore, primary teachers with additional responsibilities more frequently reported stress than did senior staff or teachers without such responsibilities. Roles and responsibilities appear to be important predictors in several aspects of teachers’quality of working life.

    Another key factor is number of hours worked per week. Hours worked were related negatively to stress in both sectors: as hours increased, so did stress. Similarly, primary teachers working up to 39 hours per week (a group which will contain many part-time and supply teachers) felt more satisfied than other primary teachers with their levels of involvement and responsibility. Hours were also related to salary: secondary teachers working more than 70 hours per week were less satisfied with their pay and additional benefits, as were primary teachers working more than 49 hours.

    The strongest findings were related to Job Commitment. Primary teachers working in northern England were more committed to their jobs than were other teachers, and primary deputies were less committed, despite their higher score on several scales. These factors, however, were the least predictive of all those identified. Teachers up to the age of 30 years were less committed, as were those who had worked in more than five schools.

    The most predictive factors for both primary and secondary teachers were scores on the Job Satisfaction

    and Freedom from Stress scales. As scores on these scales increased, so did job commitment. For primary teachers, high scores on the Support scale were also a predictive factor in job commitment.


    Teachers, on the whole, rated their quality of working life more positively than did other employees surveyed two years earlier. They were more likely to experience job satisfaction and job security, and to feel supported and informed. On the negative side, secondary teachers wanted more involvement and responsibility. Primary teachers were neutral about this aspect, and both groups were, in general, neutral about their level of job commitment. Also on the negative side, teachers were more likely than other employees to report feeling stressed and to be dissatisfied with their salaries and additional benefits. This may seem unsurprising given recent press coverage about teachers’ workloads and about recruitment and retention in the teaching profession. Nevertheless, it is encouraging that teachers’perceived quality of working life compares so favourably with that of the norm group in other respects. This fact is not prominent in the current debate, and could usefully be highlighted.

    Despite this, there are issues that need to be addressed. Roles and hours worked are key factors in teachers’

    quality of working life. Discrepancies in levels of satisfaction experienced by teachers and their managers need attention. In particular, it might be beneficial to examine levels of support for primary headteachers and to explore ways of reducing the levels of stress associated with additional responsibilities in primary schools. Many teachers indicated that they wanted more involvement or responsibility. However, it seems important that this should not occur at the expense of ‘freedom from stress’. Means by which teachers’ hours can be reduced are being examined at present and could bring benefits. The outcomes reported here strongly suggest that gains in job satisfaction and freedom from stress could impact positively on job commitment. As such, they are key areas for attention in the search to improve the recruitment and retention of teachers.


    McDONALD, A.S. (2001). Quality of Working Life Questionnaire. Windsor: NFER-NELSON.

    Further copies can be obtained from

    The Communications Unit, NFER, The Mere, Upton Park, Slough, SL1 2DQ


    1. Thanks are due to NFER-NELSON for permission to use the Quality of Working Life Questionnaire in this study.

    2. For purposes of additional analysis, a ‘backwards stepwise’ model of regression was used.

    This document was added to the Education-line database on 06 May 2004