What To Do About The Teacher Workload And Recruitment Crisis

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shutterstock_387900820 Swim in the bureaucracy paperwork workload

Is the Fair Workload Charter the answer?

Teachers are beginning to make exciting plans for the next fast-approaching half-term holiday. It’s one of the perks of the job, isn’t it? Perhaps the break will offer the chance to catch up on that pile of marking. Maybe we can finally submit some long-overdue assessment data.

As a teacher, I am well aware that many of us use the holidays to ‘catch up’. This is nothing new and helps combat the burden of a heavy workload during term time. However, as schools up and down the country struggle to staff their classrooms, things are happening. Politicians and policy makers are starting to listen and offer solutions.

There is little doubt that we face, in this country, what has been dubbed by many in the media as a ‘teacher recruitment crisis’ (The Guardian, 2016). Teachers are leaving the profession and schools are struggling to recruit enough staff to fill their classrooms. Almost a third of us quit teaching within five years of starting (DfE, 2017) and this is contributing to a shortage of teachers.

The sheer volume of work teachers have to do is often the reason why teachers leave the profession. At their annual conference in 2017, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) produced their survey of young teachers which said many considered leaving due to workload. In response, the government produced a policy paper (aptly) named Reducing teacher workload (DfE, 2017).

Fair Workload Charter

So, what is the solution? The Nottingham City Education Improvement Board (EIB) thinks it has the answer.

In November 2016, it produced a document called the Fair Workload Charter in response to teachers’ excessive wheelbarrow of jobs saying it ‘is a major obstacle to our schools being able to successfully recruit and retain the best teachers’.

It includes the following proposals to reduce workload:

  • a ‘5-minute lesson plan’ or schemes of work to reduce planning
  • clear and realistic marking and assessment policies
  • duties that don’t exceed 2 hours of work per day out of the classroom
  • schools monitor the workload of their teachers and review accordingly

A frank discussion on teacher workload is much-needed and long-overdue, but is it enough?

I certainly welcome any moves that attempt to offer practical solutions to reduce my workload and a ‘5-minute lesson plan’ in place of in-depth, laborious planning documents would undoubtedly reduce my Sunday evening work schedule! However, my overall response is one of cynicism.

It works for me

The first, most obvious, criticism is that the Fair Workload Charter is entirely voluntary and so teachers are left in the hands of a merciful management team that chooses to adopt and implement the proposals.

While many school leaders may join the Fair Workload Charter with the best of intentions, one has to wonder if this commitment would remain a priority in the face of a looming Ofsted or the pressure to raise a cohort’s lower than anticipated attainment levels.

Moreover, I believe the problem of a heavy workload lies deeper. Accountability measures have forced teachers to do more and be more.

In one study on why teachers leave the profession, workload went hand in hand with expectations of attainment and the ‘inability to switch off’ (Towers and Maguire, 2017). The feeling that we haven’t done enough can induce us to work (that little bit) harder.

Work it

The current culture in education of ‘performativity’ means that teachers feel they should be operating under a heavy workload as a way of proving their efforts and value (Ball, 2016).

This competitive climate means ‘we take responsibility for working hard, faster and better as part of our sense of personal worth and in relation to the worth of others’ (Ball, 2016).

While we may not have long hours directly dictated to us (although I am not denying that happens), often it is the pressure that we put on ourselves when challenged with attainment targets alongside performance-related pay, which prevents us from escaping a heavy workload.

With target setting and demands on pupil attainment continuing to be a prominent feature in education, it is hard to imagine that the workload of teachers will significantly reduce. I wonder what the EIB can offer in the face of all that.

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