Are you a teacher and feeling stressed? The answer is likely to be a resounding ‘yes!’
But have we gone back to the future?
“The education system cannot afford to be so profligate with its teachers. At the moment England is in a perfect storm of rising pupil numbers, falling teacher recruitment and poor teacher retention. Official figures show that the country will need nearly 160,000 additional teachers over the next three years, to cope with a projected 582,000 rise in primary and secondary age pupils by 2020.” (Source)
In this article, Bousted says ‘teachers expect to work hard, but should not be expected to develop every minute of their lives to the job!’ Apparently, according to research by Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at the University of Manchester’s business school, ‘teaching is one of the 3 most stressful occupations.‘
Dr. Mary Bousted (@MaryBoustedATL) has been told;
‘I hear of teachers crying on their kitchen floor because of the stress.’ (Source)
I have been told of ‘crying’ stories many times too, and have witnessed teachers first-hand, frequently feeling the strain. This is for a wide variety of personal and professional reasons. This is after all a demanding, yet rewarding career. We also have lives to lead, and this can sometimes make an emotionally rich day-job, all the more harder to do.
Back To The Future:
In 1991, I first entered a school classroom as a wannabe-teacher at the age of 18. In 1993, on arrival to my first teacher-placement, my head of department said; “you are entering into a very challenging career.” I knew it and I was up for the challenge. But, was I prepared? Of course I wasn’t!
But, is this what everyone wants to sign up for? Are our teachers of today ready for challenging classrooms? To teach students who have a wide variety of needs, etched against increasing accountability and greater set of contexts?
So, has anything changed over the past 2 decades and if so, what has?
Have we gone back to the future?
Image: Film Festival
It appears to be, that stress and a demanding workload are increasingly being regarded as par for the course and part of the job. After a very tough day at school yesterday, and I do mean one of those few-and-far-between that you never, ever forget(!), I tuned into LBC radio to hear this debate being discussed by radio listeners. One non-teacher and ex-military listener said that we ‘just need to get on with it and toughen up!’
When I heard this comment on the radio, I was taken aback. Naturally, I wanted to defend the profession, but then thought back to what @MaryBoustedATL had said;
School leaders could start by collecting data on what is happening in their school. How many hours are their staff working, and on what?
But have things changed since I first started teaching in 1993? Well I do know, that in our school, we conduct staff surveys twice per academic year. The data is fascinating and the staff feedback is critical. At times, the information we see and hear is eye-watering and pointed! This information tells us as a leadership team, what improvements need (or still need) to be made. In my own remit, I have added ‘staff well-being’ to my whole-school responsibilities. It was not on our list of SLT leadership themes or to-dos throughout 2014/15. It now is …
With the increased accountability in school and reports of staff working 45-60 hour weeks across England and Wales, we have much to do in-house to address the burden on our staff.Well-being and workload; stress and recruitment have clearly become a constant agenda item. This was certainly not the case throughout the 2000s when I still worked in a challenging inner-city school.
So, what has changed recently? Do we need to go forward to the past, or instead go back to the future?
As a reminder to readers and to self, I want to re-share the highlights from The Workload Challenge Report published by the DfE in February 2015. This suggests how we can work smarter as schools and schools leaders to ease the burden on our most valuable asset in schools; our staff. This information is vital and we must keep re-visiting this agenda for the well-being of our profession.
Strategies for tackling workload in schools:
Many respondents gave examples of the practical measures their schools have taken to reduce unnecessary workload. We would encourage teachers and headteachers to discuss whether any of these ideas could help reduce workload in their schools.
Curriculum and planning
• Reduction in written lesson plans (e.g. introduction of the ‘5 minute’ lesson plan). • Shared / longer blocks of protected non-teaching time to plan lessons and mark work. • Collaboration (including across phases and schools) to plan / develop new schemes of work, and dedicated time in subject / phase teams to find and share resources. • ‘Off the shelf’ schemes of work with detailed lesson plans and adaptable materials.
Assessment and data (reporting / monitoring)
- • More peer and self-assessment.
- • Sparing use of more detailed marking and written feedback, appropriate to children’s age and stage.
- • Effective use of whole school data management system / registers (including training for staff).
- • Use of software for marking, homework and tracking pupil progress.
- • Use of tablets for planning, assessment and recording lesson notes.
Support and professional development
- • Effective use of support staff e.g. removing administrative tasks from pupil facing roles, employing attendance officers and pastoral support workers, sharing data managers with partner schools.
- • Peer observations with specific focus to prompt professional dialogue.
- • Teacher-led CPD with focus on improving practice rather than disseminating information.
School administration and management
- • Minimising number/length of meetings.
- • Use of email for information, allowing meetings to focus on learning and teaching.
- • Incorporating staff work-life balance into the school development plan. • Use of online tools for administrative processes (e.g. logging behaviour issues, organising school trips, updating school policies).
- • Prioritising tasks that have the greatest impact on pupils’ learning.
Annex C (Source).
You can read more of my workload and well-being suggestions, collated all into one place in my new book, Teacher Toolkit: Surviving your first five years.