The Workload Challenge Report

Reading time: 4


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
Read more about @TeacherToolkit

What is driving teacher workload in England?

This is a blog about the outcomes from the DfE’s workload challenge conducted throughout the Autumn of 2014. The report was published on 6 February 2015. This is a concise overview for busy classroom teachers to read; with a call to arms with my own manifesto to Nicky Morgan MP. I recommend you share this with your leadership teams.

In my Workload Conversation blog, I said that the Workload Challenge website reported 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!

Even the DfE found this blog a useful summary for the classroom teacher. (added here post-blog)

Nicky Morgan Workload Challenge

The Workload Challenge consultation on the TES website ran between 22 October and 21 November 2014, and asked three open questions:

  1. Tell us about the unnecessary and unproductive tasks which take up too much of your time. Where do these come from?
  2. Send us your solutions and strategies for tackling workload – what works well in your school?
  3. What do you think should be done to tackle unnecessary workload – by the government, by schools or by others?

“The survey generated more than 44,000 returns. The same themes were raised again and again by the profession as the key drivers of unnecessary and unproductive workload, including Ofsted and the pressure it places on school leaders (whether real or perceived), and from government – as well as hours spent recording data, marking and lesson-planning.” (DfE source)


On page 22 of the 23-page Workload Challenge report, published on 6th February 2015, the DfE share this following document; Strategies for tackling workload in schools. I’m delighted that The 5 Minute Lesson Plan is mentioned in the report, and within the very first sentence (for curriculum and planning)! I find it frightening weekly lesson-planning (38%) dominates the survey …

“Respondents tended to focus on the level of detail required in plans to be submitted, including annotated seating plans for each class and justifying their decisions made for these; having to change and revisit plans during the course of a week as lessons have developed; teachers having to spend a lot of time preparing to teach lessons in subject areas that they are not trained to teach in, or lessons that require cover at short notice; tight deadlines to submit weekly lesson plans – including deadlines over the weekend, and the requirement to make amendments to their plans.” (Source page 21)

Every member of senior leadership should print this out and place a copy on your office wall … (Tweet) Below is the summary for workload solutions.

Workload Challenge DfE 5 Minute Lesson Plan

Work Smarter

I agree with much of what is reported on this page, but my particular favourites are:

  1. Shared / longer blocks of protected non-teaching time to plan lessons and mark work. (This requires a funding strategy.)
  2. Sparing use of more detailed marking and written feedback, appropriate to children’s age and stage.
  3. Peer observations with specific focus to prompt professional dialogue.
  4. Teacher-led CPD with a focus on improving practice rather than disseminating information.
  5. Minimising number/length of meetings.
  6. Use of email for information, allowing meetings to focus on learning and teaching.
  7. Incorporating staff work-life balance into the school development plan. (Source)


It is also reassuring to read that Ofsted pledge to commitments to the following:

  • not to change their handbook or framework during the school year, except when absolutely necessary
  • to keep updating their new myths and facts document stating what inspectors do and do not expect to see
  • from 2016 onwards, to look to make the handbook shorter and simpler, so that schools can more easily understand how inspectors will reach their judgements
  • cutting more than 21,000 pages of guidance, streamlining the inspection process and making it clear that formal written plans are not expected for every lesson
  • supporting the creation of a new, independent, professional body for teaching – a college of teaching – that will give the profession greater responsibility for things like professional standards and development, placing teaching on an equal footing with high-status professions like law and medicine. (Source)

Analysis / Key Findings

  • 63% of respondents stated that the excessive level of detail required made the tasks burdensome
  • 45% stated that duplication added to the burden of their workload
  • 41% stated that the over-bureaucratic nature of the work made it burdensome.

Workload Challenge DfE

Source: DfE (page 14)

Other factors noted by respondents included

  • the volume of work that they needed to get through in the time available (particularly in relation to marking books)
  • unrealistic / very short deadlines
  • long meetings, or meetings not thought to be relevant to their role / Key Stage
  • too many sources of information to manage (e.g. email, virtual learning environment, bulletin)
  • poor/unreliable Information and Communication Technology (ICT) equipment and lack of software training
  • lack of clarity with observation requirements. (Source)

The most common unproductive work areas are:

Workload Challenge Dfe

Source: DfE (page 17)

It does vary from primary to secondary sector. Here is a bar chart showing unnecessary and unproductive workload by type of school.

Workload Challenge DfE

Source: DfE (page 26)


Teachers said that their workload was created by:

  • accountability/perceived pressures of Ofsted (53%)
  • tasks set by senior/middle leaders (51%)


Here are solutions and strategies suggested by teachers, for tackling workload pressures. There are some great ideas.

Workload Challenge DfE

Source: DfE (page 30)


On the 15th July 2014, when Michael Gove was booted out of office, I blogged A 5 Point Plan for Incoming Nicky Morgan MP to encourage her to genuinely engage with the profession in England and Wales. My summary is pertinent than ever before. Here are the key headlines I tweeted to @NickyMorgan01:

  1. 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.
  2. Challenge the purpose of Ofsted for schools, teachers, parents and students. Ensure that the watchdog is fit-for-service and (if Ofsted remains) is there to support schools. Hold Ofsted to account.
  3. Share good news stories with the profession; with the media. Work to improve working conditions and fairer pay for teachers.
  4. Listen to us; listen to the profession. Genuinely engage with grassroots practice and teachers at the chalk-face.
  5. 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.

You can read my manifesto in full, here. “The overarching concerns about the level of evidence required and the need for constant accountability measures to be in place has led to many respondents suggesting that Government, Ofsted and senior leadership teams should place trust in their professional abilities.”

(Source page 37)

I hope you find this a useful summary to share with your school leadership teams.

Further Reading

13 thoughts on “The Workload Challenge Report

  1. A great summary for anyone wanting an overview of the pain points, suggestions from teachers and proposed solutions from both the government & ofsted. Refreshing to hear something touching on the positives too – reading ‘too little, too late’ is not going to change anything! Great read.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.