Regarding teacher workload, can we trust DfE policy?
I’d like to write about teacher workload and wellbeing once more before the academic year sets in …
In March 2015, the Department for Education published a protocol for changes to accountability, curriculum and qualifications. Please share this far and wide with your school leadership teams.
The following statements set out the Department for Education’s commitments in response to the Workload Challenge: to introduce minimum lead in times for significant changes to accountability, the curriculum and qualifications; and to do more to consider the impact on schools when introducing such changes.
All in all, there were 9 commitments set out; but what were they and how well do we think the DfE are doing in order to achieve them?
9 Workload Protocols:
1. Any new policies related to accountability, curriculum and qualifications which will have a significant workload impact on schools should be brought in, wherever possible, at the beginning of the school year. Examples of changes of this type include major changes to the curriculum or qualifications, or changes to the Ofsted framework or handbook which have an impact on teaching staff.
How often will this promise be broken? Only yesterday, “primary schools have today been told of the interim assessment arrangements for the current academic year – far less notice than was promised.”
2. There should be a lead in time of at least a year for any accountability, curriculum or qualifications initiative coming from the department which requires schools to make significant changes which will have an impact on staff workload. So, for example, the Department would publish subject content and Ofqual would publish its assessment requirements for any new qualifications at least a year in advance of first teaching (with accredited specifications and additional materials to follow later).
Do we really think this is possible given the recent curriculum reforms? There has been so many reforms and changes have been so rapid. For example, the workload for teachers I work with; a constant change in curriculum and examination reform has increased workload on top of the work we are already doing. Teachers already need time for lesson planning, marking and managing behaviour. Now, they need even more time to revise or re-write entire curriculum provision! This is despite a bombarded timetable that is 90% full!
3. Significant changes to qualifications, accountability or the curriculum should avoid having an impact on pupils in the middle of a course resulting in a qualification (i.e. pupils should start a course knowing that the content or assessment criteria will not change during the course). Taken in conjunction with 2., this will mean that children in different years might be affected by changes at different times so that their course or key stage is not interrupted. For example, a change to GCSE would be implemented for pupils entering Year 10, but would not affect those who had already started the course (and were entering Year 11).
The damage has already been done with students I have taught. Qualifications and grade boundaries have even changed from January entry to summer entry in August. Can we really trust the DfE and their commitment to reduce changes during a period where students may have already started an examination course? Most notably between January and the summer of 2013 …
4. The Department should generally seek to avoid such changes while pupils are within a Key Stage, whilst recognising that there may be occasions when this will not be desirable, for example due to the risk of excessive delay or the creation of additional workload.
I really think this is lip-service and impossible to achieve. Students will always be ‘within a key stage’ and although changes can be delayed for year 7 students until they begin academic study in year 10, do we really see the DfE slowing curriculum change beyond 12 months? Frankly, I don’t.
5. Significant policy changes of this type should take into account the workload impact on different types of school (for example primary, secondary, special, middle schools, academies) and staff within the school (for example the headteacher, phase leaders, business manager, SENCO etc).
There are no solid proposals to go alongside this recommendation. I cannot see how the DfE will be able to differentiate between schools at this stage …
6. The Department will not ask Ofsted to make changes to the handbook or framework for inspectors during the school year, unless these are minor changes, such as points of clarification, requested by schools themselves. Changes to the Ofsted handbook or framework for inspectors will be accompanied by clear guidelines (where appropriate) about what will be expected of schools.
I like this. And I’ll be the first to blog about it if the DfE and Ofsted do otherwise. Minor changes will be allowed.
7. This protocol may be subject to an override in cases where a change is urgently required, such as where there is clear evidence of abuse in the system which needs addressing, for example on the advice of the exam regulator Ofqual. Reasons for any overrides will be communicated when the change is announced.
This is clearly a ‘get-out-clause’ for anything written within this document. Be warned!
8. Policy proposals on significant accountability, curriculum and qualifications changes sent to ministers should set out the workload impact on schools and the lead-in time. If the department protocol is likely to be overridden, this should be clear in the initial proposals sent to ministers.
We’d like to see this too! Again, another ‘get-out-clause’ for the government should they need to fast-track any immediate reform.
9. Instances where the override is exercised should be published annually, with reasons why this was the case.
And I hope this promise is made on the basis, that any reform – and there should not be much as we have seen in the past 5 years – is made annually and not on a whim.
The question remains, can we trust DfE policy?
You can read the DfE Protocol guidance here.