If the government cannot do it, how can schools address the workload crisis and seize control?
For almost two years, I have been ranting on about the Workload Challenge. I make no apologies for this. If the Department for Education proposals are to be fruitful, reform will be meaningless without any structural changes to national policy. This is yet to happen within their own department if they do not lead by example.
The DfE must work with us, not tell us what to do.
Until strategies and systems are put in place, and although it is very easy to say “reduce teacher contact-ratio” as the ultimate solution for tackling workload, despite it being the most pragmatic approach to the problem, it is an unrealistic suggestion in our current climate of fair-funding and budget constraints.
Even worse at the time of writing with the ‘Leave’ vote for the EU referendum and the volatility of the £1 (sterling pound).
I am reminded of the three Workload Review Groups who published their findings in March 2016. That if schools apply suggested principles, workload would decrease, yet the DfE still fail to lead by example; recent catastrophes with key stage 1 and 2 assessments and exemplar materials being delayed have led to an increased workload for primary colleagues.
So, I’ve decided to grab the ‘bull-by-the-horns’ and offer 5 realistic and pragmatic solutions. We know common-sense ideologies work and many schools are taking workload into their own hands, but is this the case for your school?
In 50% of schools where lesson gradings have been banished, teachers are also no longer required to produce or submit any form of lesson plans. Instead, an evidence base should incorporate a broad range of different types of documentation from the lesson observation to marking and classroom data to meeting the Teachers’ Standards.
Observation of classroom practice and other responsibilities is just one method of assessing performance, and yet, how many are carried out in a supportive fashion? In 2016/17 in the school which I work, we will eradicate formal observations altogether. The amount and type of observation will depend on the individual circumstances of the teacher and the overall needs of the school. It may be that some teachers are never formally observed, other than taking part in a voluntary coaching programme.
If teachers are good, they will be let alone to get on with the job and encouraged to share and participate in school professional development programmes.
Streamlined policies and guidance to clarify expectations and frequency is essential for all schools and as recommend by the Marking Review Group, should be “based on what we know about marking rather than what we think we know”.
Teachers should not be wasting their time with marking gimmicks that do not have any impact on student progress. A perfect example of this is a ‘verbal feedback’ stamp for observer purposes.
Why not try this simple marking policy?
Despite effective marking policies in schools, these will always be undermined by examination boards. We desire for all students to be working harder than the teacher, but how is this possible with recent reform and examination boards, demanding annotated marking for countless re-drafted documents to evidence a student’s journey and their decision-making?
If examination boards demand ‘evidence from a distance’, this will always contradict what OfSTED and schools are trying to do to reduce the burden of marking. Until marking requirements from examination boards are developed at a strategic level, sadly any sensible marking policy will have little or no impact if teachers are doing quite the opposite for public examinations.
Ofsted and the DfE for that matter do not fulfil their side of the bargain, but OfSTED are trying at least under the direction of Sean Hartford. Frequent ‘mythbuster publications’ help remind schools and teachers what is not required by OfSTED:
- No more lesson plans.
- No requirement to complete a set quantity of observations.
- No more graded lesson observations. Hurrah!
- No template for self-evaluation.
- No particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books.
Hartford’s blogposts are also another gem, offering his musings on an emerging model to have peer-to-peer accountability within a hub-based model of experts supporting others in the local area to help new head teachers in their role, or for schools in need of support over a longer period of time following an unsavoury inspection.
You can read my open letter to Amanda Spielman: 5 Hopes for OfSTED.
This suggestion is very abstract and although easy to express in writing, fundamentally it relies on consistency and collegiality. In schools where there is a strong culture of trust, teachers thrive.
“Schools are complex places. We can find ourselves too stretched to think, overworked and under-utilised, busy but not productive.” (Mary Myatt)
When this happens, we can take our eye off the big picture and allow the small details to eat away at our motivations. When this happens, trust begins to crack at the seams and colleagues start to bicker.
Trust is what holds teams together.
In a system of growing accountability, there is no scope for colleagues to undermine each other by sweeping issues under the carpet. Yet despite a desire for transparency and consistency, it is easy for any school teacher and senior leader to drop the ball. This is only made worse in a growing climate of fear, performance related pay and decreasing budgets.
“Sensible leaders understand that If we want to receive trust we have to trust people first. There is no other way, it does not work from the bottom up, it works from the top down.” (Mary Myatt)
Senior teachers have responsibility to model workload in all that they do.
School leaders must be mindful of their own request that impact on teachers whose heads are down, working day-in, day-out in the classroom. They must be aware that deadlines impact on busy teachers and less-so on themselves – and if leaders are to enable staff to work sensibly, they must set tasks that are achievable to complete within the normal working day. Give staff the trust and respect to complete the task to the best of their ability.
So, if the government cannot do it, how can schools address the workload crisis and seize control? Well, let’s start with a campaign for one teaching union.