Teacher Workload: Policy vs. Practice

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What is the Department for Education doing to help reduce teacher workload?

The DfE have published an updated policy paper (10.11.17) on ‘Reducing Teacher Workload‘: what the government is doing to reduce unnecessary workload for teachers, including details of the workload challenge.

Inside the action plan, the report highlight’s the DfE’s “continued dedication to solving this problem. But we know that everyone involved in education has a role to play in relentlessly challenging and removing practices which add unnecessary burdens.”

The paper highlights how the DfE are developing a protocol in response to the 2014 workload challenge survey. It sets out the DfE’s commitment to:

  • introduce minimum lead-in times (the times schools have to prepare for the changes they need to make) for significant changes to accountability, the curriculum or qualifications
  • do more to consider the workload of staff in schools when introducing such changes.

This is good news, but this type of information is still sadly falling on deaf ears – *50% of leaders working in English schools who have still not yet read the original report/evidence/recommendations. As a school leader, I find that astonishing. I also suspect that those who choose to work in a challenging school context find the recommendations very difficult to digest.

It’s a question of policy versus practice.


Within the report, the DfE say “we are right to focus on removing unnecessary workload related to marking, lesson planning and administration of data. However, the findings provide additional information about where we should be targeting workload reduction, and this plan sets out further steps we will take to do this.”

There is much progress to report – below I select a few critical areas for teachers.

  • Ofsted has continued to monitor inspection reports to ensure that no particular method of to address planning, marking or assessment is referred to as an exemplar of best practice. (This may be the case in the ‘actual publication of reports’, but I suspect it doesn’t quite correlate to what happens on the day during an inspection.)
  • Continue to develop the new Performance Tables service, so that it presents the new accountability measures in an intuitive way, and offers better ways for schools to compare their own performance with that of others. (Continue to compare one school against another and in effect what you are doing, is creating competition between schools; one school working in a disadvantaged area may find it almost impossible to achieve a ‘Good’ or reach the higher echelons of a league table. Jumping through hoops anyone? Add more hoops = increase workload.)
  • Undertake work with schools, teachers and the market to explore in-depth the pressures and opportunities around advertising teacher vacancies. (We are still waiting for the DfE to create a national jobs portal to help centralise vacancies and reduce costs. In the meantime, use TT’s free service.)
  • The DfE has offered groups of schools grants to carry out their own workload reviews (due Spring 2018).
  • Made clear that there will be greater stability in primary assessment, with no new national tests or assessments to be introduced before the 2018 to 2019 academic year. (I’m not surprised considering SATs test have cost the taxpayer £44M.)

The DfE also report:

  • Develop, with teachers and their representatives, a package of support for teachers in the first five years of their careers to help them manage workload, as part of our offer of targeted support. (I’ve yet to see anything here – have I missed it?)
  • We have announced the £75m Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund (before the application window closed to tender) as a means of delivering high quality professional development.
  • Investigate ways to remove the barriers which might deter schools from advertising posts on a flexible basis. (Yes please! We are keeping so many people away from the profession by restricting vacancies to FTE).

The DfE have committed to biennial surveys to track teacher workload. It is so important that as many teachers take part and do not cite workload as a reason for failing to contribute to the wider solution.


The DfE aim to:

  1. Avoid policy change related to accountability, curriculum and qualifications which will have significant workload impact on schools should be brought in, wherever possible, at the beginning of the school year.
  2. Have a lead in time of at least a year.
  3. 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) and while pupils are within a Key Stage.
  4. Take into account the workload impact on different types of school.
  5. The DfE will not ask Ofsted to make changes to the handbook or framework for inspectors during the school year.
  1. Reducing teacher workload action plan: update and next steps
  2. Department for Education Protocol for changes to accountability, curriculum and qualifications.

*According to ASCL polls.

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