Over the past month I have been reminded of some simple and important educational values. This blog is about teacher relationships, unnecessary workload and political claptrap.
“Staff well-being matters. It is not a peripheral issue – indeed, it should be a moral imperative for all senior leadership teams and their governing bodies.” (Dissenting Voice)
This week I received a response form General Secretary Brian Lightman regarding my forthcoming presentation, A Valid Landscape for Teaching and Learning which I will be presenting at the GrowEx and PiXL conferences over the next two weeks. In this post, Lightman said the following:
“The polling question asked during the conference, was simply whether school leaders were still grading lessons and did not break it down any further. This issue needs a great deal of caution for the following reasons; The Ofsted clarification makes it very clear that it lists what they do not require and not what heads may or may not do. That should be their professional judgement and a decision that needs to be made at school level … What we do know of course is that the perceived or sometimes genuine requirements of Ofsted in the past have led schools to adopt practices which are not necessarily in the interests of students or create unnecessary teacher workload. They would be well advised to reconsider these. That is where sharing best practice would be really helpful and we are trying to support this through our professional development programmes.”
This week, following on from The Marking Frenzy conversation I appeared to have started over the October half-term break, I also spoke to DfE about The Workload Challenge and wellbeing; coincidentally, The RH Secretary of State Nicky Morgan MP will be hosting @SLTchat on Sunday 7th December and I (when planning) will be asking the DfE that workload will be the only topic of discussion. The Workload Challenge website reports that “the average English teacher works nearly 50 hours a week, but too much of that time is taken up with unnecessary paperwork and unproductive tasks.” Research also from The School Workforce census reports that school leaders work on average 55-65 hours per week!
This news is nothing new for teachers.
Unnecessary bureaucracy and headline news from the DfE and Ofsted, sometimes misconceived by schools, school leaders and teachers lead to all sorts of misinterpretations and myths. This equates to cumbersome workloads, unmanageable deadlines and paper trails! I am not shy of hard work and high standards, but I am shy of unnecessary bureaucracy. I detest it. I ask that a common-sense approach is applied in all contexts and every school leader embraces what is right for their students and colleagues working in their school. Where possible, avoid an email and have a face to face conversation with colleagues, simplify documents and offer sensible deadlines.
Discussing in detail with the DfE, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on workload. My views were of course my own, but I ensured I offered a range of ideas and experiences of colleagues working on the ground, sharing recent practice of working with my new colleagues. Despite – initially – criticising the Survey Monkey set up by the DfE, this has now had over 41,000 responses and over 200 personal emails from teachers – sharing their ideas, solutions and strategies to reduce unnecessary workload – who, I have been assured, will each have an individual response from an MP.
A programme of action is likely to be published early next year and I will be privy to some early indications of this. However, despite the assurance with colleagues who work at the DfE, I do wonder how genuine this call is to reduce teacher-workload by Morgan et al as we approach a forthcoming general election. Read 7 Facts Teachers are Sick of Hearing From Politicians.
Nicky Morgan MP:
When the vast majority of teachers fell off their classroom chairs at 11am on 15th July 2014, I soon blogged A 5 Point Plan for incoming Nicky Morgan MP to encourage her to genuinely engage with the profession in England and Wales. Here are the suggestions I tweeted to @NickyMorgan01:
- Give the profession a period of time to consolidate; trust teachers and school leaders to carry out recent reforms to education. Particularly those on curriculum, assessment and levels.
- Challenge the purpose of Ofsted for schools, teachers, parents and students. Ensure that the watchdog is fit-for-service and (if Ofsted remain) is there to support schools. Hold Ofsted to account.
- Share good news stories with the profession; with the media. Work to improve working conditions and fairer pay for teachers.
- Listen to us; listen to the profession. Genuinely engage with grassroots practice and teachers at the chalk-face.
- Focus reform on what works and use evidence to make what works for us in our own country. Do not be driven by league tables; political think-tanks and ideological beliefs.
How many of these points above do we think Morgan has already started to address?
In July 2014, I sat at a roundtable at The Guardian to discuss teacher wellbeing. Despite 15 or so gathered around the table, teachers were in the minority. The meeting was fruitful and despite useful references to academic research from Briner and Dewberry (Birbeck University 2007) Staff well-being is key to school success: that happy teachers = happy students and this = happy and successful outcomes, there were (sadly) no other real outcomes from the meeting other than this article!
However, I will make one more final reference to my 5 Point Plan to Improve Teacher WellBeing.
- Accountability: Keep expectations high, but remain flexible by removing unnecessary checklists by allowing teachers to teach in a style that suits the students in their classroom. For example: remove the burden of lesson planning and marking, by banishing lesson proformas from appraisal observations and day-to-day teaching and learning. Ensure all staff are clear about the expectations of marking. That every page in a student’s book does not have to be marked. Streamline reporting; assessment; flexible timetable and working arrangements etc.
- Workload: Reduce the need for meetings for meeting sake. Publish agendas and handouts in advance. Bring staff together for clarification; Q&A and/or decisions with staff (concerned) present – 30 mins. Or more specifically, banish Mocksteds! Trust staff to do the job and if they can’t meet expectations, adapt and refine what is expected and have ‘that conversation’, but be flexible.
- Professional development: The school CPD budget should be huge! At least 1-2% of the overall school budget! Invest in your staff, by providing tailored, differentiated in-house CPD for every adult within the school. Research by The Teacher Development Trust show that schools spend £12,000 on teachers in their first year of practice, compared to a miserly £400 p.a. thereafter. Ensure CPD is genuinely followed up and that staff are given the time to demonstrate its impact.
- Attrition: Eradicate bullies; task-masters; and leaders who berate adults within the school with remedial tasks and heavy-handed, ill-thought out workload. Insist that the government, unions and policy-makers reduce the need for rapid-change and start to consolidate on the changes that have been made from 2010. What works best, is good teaching and learning in the classroom. Everything else is just peripheral. A broken vision is evident in the staff who do not believe leaders are genuinely committed to making sure everyone is appropriately supported; fairly and transparently. Investment in all staff would ensure equality is paramount for developing all members of staff in their performance / wellbeing. Teaching will always be a noble profession, but certainly not one that has credibility if we do not retain and invest in the staff we already have.
- Genuine support: A meaningful and realistic vision for staff wellbeing is needed for every school. Happy schools have happy teachers and happy and healthy teachers make happy schools. But in order to achieve this, every staff, no matter how jaded, needs support and guidance. Staff need to be listened to carefully. In everyone, there is a real potential. As school leaders, managers or appraisers, we need to find this potential and unlock it. Give every member of all staff a linked coach/mentor as well as an appraiser. The coach/mentor can genuinely meet to support staff wellbeing and personal and professional CPD needs in a structured/calendared way.
The Leadership Role:
Since stepping up to deputy headteacher, I realise even more than ever before, that I am now on the front-line of critical day-to-day and long-term decisions on behalf of the students, parents and staff. It is vital that every decision I make, is the right one for the school and a perspective I take very seriously. Over the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on a variety of decisions I have had to make. These vary from the usual smorgasbord of school day-to-day deeds, supporting staff in and out of the classroom, ensuring standards are robust and that we are all driving the school forward. Events include supporting staff with decisions on assessment, behaviour, CPD, movement into our new building, exclusion, confiscation, referral, key decisions on teaching and learning, such as grades and progress over time, as well as cover management and the appointments of new staff. As we know, this is merely ‘the tip of the tip’ of the iceberg!
However, with everything taken into account, workload and a common-sense approach must be taken into account. Always have the conversation. And I do hope Nicky Morgan continues to do so too, no matter how poorly this reaches teachers on the ground, it is at least starting to happen.
As we reach the end of term, tempers will fray and energy levels start to sap, remember why you first came into teaching and encourage your school leaders to keep a common-sense approach to teacher workload and wellbeing.
The Workload Challenge Iceberg:
The image below may need further tweaking to explain my thoughts, but essentially this blog and image connotes the following:
- The Tip of The Tip of the Iceberg: Face to Face conversations are fundamental, whether these are positive or negative between colleagues in school, or directly from the DfE. Interaction with front-line teachers is the single, most powerful form of engagement school leaders and the DfE, Ofsted and the like can have. We must engage. I define this as a pivotal point on the iceberg; The tip of The Tip of the iceberg.
- The Tip of The Iceberg: Recognition. Students love public recognition. As adults, we do too, but it must be genuine. Any positive news about the profession – although rare in the press – must be promoted from the powers that be. Equally, this is also important for school leaders to do the same and recognise the hard work of their staff. Often, this is left under the water surface.
- The Wedge: School leadership. A mixture of shielding staff from unnecessary workload and ensuring support and challenge is provided. It is vital that both (wedges) ‘slopes’ start above and below the surface and meet in the middle. Leadership is what I reference here as ‘sea-level’ which can often slip below the surface. Are leaders the thin or thick end of the ‘wedge?’
- The Pinnacle: Wellbeing comes in many forms (pinnacles) where schools, leaders and systems can ensure staff are happy, healthy and supported at work. For me, this is not a high enough priority and comes in the form of several iceberg pinnacles, reaching high into the sky, yet also rooted deep underwater. It must become more of a conversation in all schools. We often allow too much slippage here and wellbeing is often left sinking deep, down underwater.
- Front-line Workload: Deep down in the blue sea, the workload of front-line teachers if often forgotten by many school leaders and those sitting in ivory towers. Enough said. The DfE must provide schools with more funds to release teachers from 90% teaching timetables to manage workload within school hours. The time released can also equip teachers to genuinely engage with their own CPD needs e.g. observing colleagues.