A Better Workload for Teachers

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shutterstock Man drowning in stacks of paperwork workload


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...
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This is a blog about teacher workload and the DfE’s action plan, designed to re-address the work-life balance. Over the half term, whilst pondering a post-election article I am writing for @SchoolsWeek, I thought I should revisit the Workload Challenge report published by the DfE in February 2015.  Akin to teaching, when you reflect and look back on what you have taught, you realise something new, or something else that could’ve been done better. Re-reading the ‘Government Response to the Workload Challenge’ report, I’ve re-read over the government’s action plan (page 19) and here are my conclusions.


  1. No matter what you say, do or refine, teaching by default is exhausting.
  2. Without a change in how teachers are timetabled, everything designed to improve teaching is rhetoric.
  3. On the basis of 40-55 hours per week, 38 weeks of the academic year, the current shelf-life of a teacher is just 5 years!

It’s no wonder teachers are working on flat batteries!

shutterstock a young businessman curled up in the floor with his head between his knees and an illustration of a low battery workload tiredImage: Shutterstock

Action Plan:

So, on reflection, how can we use this information to improve teacher workload? This table below sparked a small light-bulb in my mind. When reviewing all the details of the report, the headlines from the action plan, particularly in section 4 – Support for school leaders – and section 5 – A better evidence base for teachers, I quickly realised this is something we can – as teachers – all control for ourselves. Together, we can improve our own workload. All the other sections are out of our control. Workload Challenge

Image: DfE

Support for School Leaders:

  • Review of leadership training and development opportunities, including assessment of current coaching and mentoring offer.

I cannot ever recall a moment during the 15 years I’ve been involved in school leadership, where there has been ANY – yes ANY – coaching and mentoring offered to me voluntarily or as part of my development in school. This has been left to the good will of the headteachers I have worked with. This is not good enough! How many more of us are there? Remove the relatively new CPD programmes such as Teaching Leaders, Tomorrows Heads, NPQSL, NPQML, NPQH and the like; what else is there on offer for ALL school leaders? What is our entitlement to professional development on the job?

“CPD for school leaders cannot be left to chance.”

No wonder many of us are left to sink or swim! What the government needs to do, is offer every school leader in the country, a CPD model/assessment to enable all leaders to develop in the job. In turn, these school leaders will support school teachers and the wider workforce. Without it, we are left to our own devices without any structure or value. How can we make progress? I know this will be simply a funding solution, but it’s just not good enough.

A Better Evidence Base for Teachers:

  • Build an evidence base for teachers and publish in one place for ease of use.
  • Develop research schools and publish examples of what is working in schools.
  • Support work to create a central repository for teaching and learning resources.

The report concludes, that the DfE hopes the introduction of the College of Teaching – to be established and run by the profession, for the profession – will be an important step. I am a huge advocate for this movement; but the already ‘not-really-a-teacher’ executive board already places the College of Teaching (not) run by the profession, for the profession and not the other way around as it was intended. Already, we are off to a bad start! researched I have first-hand, word of mouth, that the DfE cannot connect with school leaders across England and Wales. The DfE’s social-media team once told me this when the first wanted to host @SLTchat in 2013. We only need to look at social-media and teachmeets, both excellent models of grassroots CPD for teachers, as a potential base for teachers to mobilise evidence, research and reduce workload.

“If teachers can organise themselves, they can move policy.”

@tombennett71 and @hgaldinoshea have already started off a fabulous grassroots movement for teachers with ResearchEd. Take a look at WorkingOutWhatWorks.com. This movement will grow astronomically over the coming years and I predict Tom and Helene will soon appear on billboard posters adorned on school buildings, publications and street art! Why? Because ResearchEd is a teacher-led movement, where current and pertinent teaching affairs are discussed; the work is our destiny. This movement is very different to the world of academia where there is little contact with students in schools day-to-day. Academic research – whether teacher or academic led – can influence what takes place in classrooms. It’s important that either or, is useful for teachers on the frontline. There is a need for teachers to be actively involved in their own classroom research and this is slowly coming to the fore.  ResearchEd is not an academic body like BELMAS or BERA. It’s a teacher-led organisation aimed at improving research literacy in educational communities. Teachers are working out what works for teachers; cutting through the fads, myths and rhetoric. Cutting through the nonsense that has influenced policy, pedagogy and worst of all, teaching practice in our own classrooms. A better evidence base for teachers is about what we do, interpret and use in the classroom. It is vital we take the bull-by-the-horns and control our workload destiny! If we don’t. They will come; nosediving down on the classroom teacher, swooping like snake-oil salesmen with the latest CPD course to guarantee ‘Outstanding’ teaching in 20-minutes; rouge OfSTED inspectors and bullish school-leaders, keen to impart their own views on what teachers can and cannot do, and what works! We are in an era of change. However, I cannot (yet) see how the DfE can add value here. Please help me understand how this is achieved in the 3 bullet points listed above. shutterstock Snake Oil salesman myths workload fads gimmicks

Image: Shutterstock

As the evidence base grows, and teachers have better access to it, the DfE hopes that action to reduce workload in schools will result in more efficient practice, and that those ideas are shared around the system. Perhaps through Teaching Schools?  The DfE has suggested they will track teacher workload over the coming years to assess the impact of policies and actions and act on the findings. According to the publication, we should expect another Workload Challenge survey before February 2017. The DfE state emerging technologies are developing at pace and will affect the way schools run, supporting teachers in their work. And that they hope that the government’s response will make a difference as part of these wider developments. The DfE look forward to working with the teaching profession to make sure those dedicating their lives to children’s learning have the support they need. I’m just looking forward to the day the frenetic pace of change and policy dissipates and teachers take back what is theirs. This is our profession.

Rhetoric or a possibility. What do you think? Can we have A Better Workload for Teachers?



Click to open the tweet and respond.

DfE Twitter Workload

8 thoughts on “A Better Workload for Teachers

  1. Hi! I have got a feeling that the 2 issues: workload and evidence-based solutions are not necessarily connected. I am with you in thinking that the workload is not going to be reduced – whatever we say. But, I find it HUGELY important to try and base more of what we do on evidence from research IN schools not ivory towers. That way, our work can be made more meaningful, hence enjoyable, which means it will feel less like “work” and thereby reduce pressure levels.
    Now I’m off checking out the links you mentioned… Thank you

  2. Until education becomes separated from politics and governments can’t interfere at their will, we will always be at the mercy of the quango bosses and their new fads. Anyone who opposes the newest latest teaching miracle cure will be bullied and victimised. Until we fight to make it a pre requisite that the Secretary of State has been a practising teacher and understands the job in its entirety we are the mercy of know it all’s who think they could do our job.
    I would give them all 5 mins flat with my year 7.
    Sorry to be a cynic. I think the researchED and people like yourself are fantastic and we need you to get out there into the political arena and fight for us. Unions are now castigated, divided and spend too much time focusing on strikes. We need a United voice for teachers everywhere that shows our professionalism, extraordinary work ethic and our unique ability to put the needs of others before our own. Something that ALL leaders everywhere should take notice of.
    Thank you for being a fantastic role model and talking an enormous amount of sense. You provide that greatest of feelings – hope!

  3. Totally agree @TeacherTooolkit. At our school we have just been asked to for working party to look at monitoring reviews and teacher observations in light of current changes. Majority feeling and agreement is to work towards coaching observations. Getting rid of grades but promoting, assisting and yes if necessary intervening during an observation, to ensure every teacher receives the best support for them. Lateral thinking is that we will all be at the same base line going forward, that coaching suits what is needed for individuals with a greater emphasis on sharing best practice within school. I am personally trying to get as many people as I can to use twitter on a daily basis and get the enormous benefits of CPD that I have encountered here. I firmly believe that we must move as a teaching body towards an holistic approach to teaching, it’s not only what goes in class but what is done around being in class to aid and improve the teaching and learning for the staff AND the students.

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