Why DfE Workload Posters Are Unhelpful!

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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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Why has the issue of workload reached epidemic proportions?

I am trying to stay calm. My legs are ‘jiggling up and down’ as I write, hoping that one day, someone will finally ‘turn on the lightbulb’ at the Department for Education.

Teachers’ workload is too high, with various organisations – including the DfE – reporting teachers, working in-excess of 55+ hour weeks just to keep on top of their day-to-day workload. At a time when teacher recruitment and retention is under severe pressure and school budgets at breaking point, school leaders understand the issues, but why does our government and external partners fail to challenge their own thinking about their policies and their influences?

Work-life balance, says Nigel Marsh, is too important to be left in the hands of your employer. If we do not design [our version of work-life balance], someone else will define it for you. And you may just not like what their idea of ‘balance’. It is particularly important, that you never leave your life in the hands of a commercial corporation. [For me, this means a school and/or OfSTED].

Re-Think Workload!

Why can’t our government be more open-minded to new ways of working in schools? Why do we continue to accept this pace to reform and fall for the rhetoric of ‘raising standards’ as the norm? Who wouldn’t want to improve?!

This dialogue is not sustainable and I fear for the profession … After 24 months since the Workload Challenge Report was published in February 2014, we now have a shiny poster for our office walls(!) and for every staff rooms up and down the country! Money well spent …

There are a few gems in this poster. Two for me being: 1) OfSTED says (which is part of the problem) and 2) Don’t waste your time on marking that is time-wasting and has no impact on outcomes. Who knew?!

Resource / Training:

On Saturday 11th March, I delivered two breakout sessions to over 200 delegates at the ASCL national conference in Birmingham, designed to provide opportunities to hear and contribute to the latest developments in the education sector, to network with a wide range of colleagues working in and beyond the UK, and to debate and discuss the best ways to secure excellence in our system and for our young people.

I was touched by the conversations I had with individuals – classroom teachers and headteachers – some who were in tears after my session, claiming that they too, needed to redefine their version of work-life balance. That they needed to take back control. In my training session, I offered 12 solutions for making schools, teachers and school leaders work smarter and seize control.

1. Research: what does the data tell us?

2. Workload groups findings

3. Breaking the monotony of everyday workload

4. Initial self-valuations about personal workload

5. Emails: how to switch off?

6. Leadership reviews: self-evaluation of workload on others

7. Strategies for meetings

8. Redefining our version of success

9. The work-life balance fallacy…

10. Marking ideas for every school

11. Planning ideas for every school

12. Teaching ideas for every school.

School leaders have as much responsibility as anyone else who manages their own workload, but leaders also have a responsibility to look out for the impact of their work on others. Every time you add something to your own or another person’s workload, you should commit to also take something away. But, is this really possible to achieve?


Before you download this free resource, please click a tweet of thanks and do let me know how you get on: #WorkloadSolutions.

Download the PDF here.

*This resource is copyright of @TeacherToolkit.

5 thoughts on “Why DfE Workload Posters Are Unhelpful!

  1. I completely agree that a poster like this is clearly not properly dealing with the situation, but I find rather weirdly that I do sympathise with the DfE staff behind this, who may have good intentions, but have no clout, no cash, and no political pressure to genuinely put effort into helping sort out improving teaching via improving teacher’s lives…and so are clearly struggling to do anything meaningful . Their logic will probably be a) by doing this we can be seen to have “delivered” something on our promises”, and we can’t do more as we have no budget b) it shows school leaders and workforce that DfE does think this issue is important – as doing a poster is how they now tend to go about this and c) there is a slim chance that the target audience will read (some of ) it, as it’s marginally more interesting that the Employer Insurance certificate next to it on the board, and this might just, spark off something in the reader and/or school to actually do something concrete, which of course may well be nothing to do with the advice offered. In fact weirdly your post will in all probability help to raise the likelihood it is read, and has an impact, despite the fact that you are being critical of it! So from their POV, it’s all good, and for the money spent on it (lets say a £1million-= £1 a person) there may well be no better way to spend it to help raise awareness about the the issue amongst the schools’ workforce and management, even if the actual poster’s text is pretty useless. i.e from their POV, if you can only do very little, maybe this is the best that can be done. That;s not to say of course that the sector doesn’t deserve and need a lot better and more than this, it’s just that in the current climate, it’s not the DfE that can provide it. But thank goodnessy there are people/outfits like Teachertoolkit who can!

  2. I think it’s simply disingenuous of the Govt to publish a poster with things that, whilst good intentioned, can be open to interpretation. Marking that benefits students. Ok, who defines this? The poster implies that teachers themselves can say “no! This level of marking is overkill”. But we can’t. In the next two months, my workload will be dominated by heavy marking with annotation of coursework scripts. Pupils will never see this. It’s all for exam boards that seem immune from changing exam workload pressure.

    What will change workload? What is making it worse? Not green / purple pens and data into spreadsheets… It’s planning lessons for classes you don’t teach when schools can’t recruit good teachers. It’s class sizes rising. When primary classes change from 27 to 32, when 30+ GCSE classes spring up, A-Level classes in the 20s (whilst private schools still have classes in the teens)…

    That’s the workload challenge… Don’t expect higher standards with less spending power in budgets alongside more students. Until this changes, the DfE cannot claim to be serious about tackling workload.

  3. Marking load differs from subject to subject and from topic to topic. I teach English and the marking load is enormous regardless of my efforts to reduce the time taken to mark each piece. We teach English every day at my school so a lot of writing is generated, and students, parents, SLT (and Ofsted when they came in a few weeks ago) expect to see every piece of work marked. Let’s say they produce two pieces of writing per week (and KS4 usually generates more) and it takes 5 minutes to read and mark, even with time-reducing policies in place. If you teach 250 kids a week, that’s 20 hours of marking per week. The new exam specs have also added significantly to marking load as they’re new to us all, take time to embed, and are also fairly fiddly to use. It’s all very well for the DfE and Ofsted to say that marking has to be meaningful but if it’s not done fairly quickly, the kids forget what they’ve done (so the marking is meaningless) and you’ve already moved on so it’s not beneficial for planning. It’s very tricky to have a work-life balance if you’re marking every evening.

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