How far away are we from achieving a realistic workload-balance for teachers?
With the emergence of technology in the classroom, keeping teachers more connected in and out of school, why have we not had any real discussion about the terms and conditions of our teachers and their contracted hours?
Workload, not behaviour or technology
Workload time and time again is the key reason why teachers leave the profession – not behaviour or salary. It’s an issue I’ve been exploring in my work for the last 10 years. For example, the demand to log into management information systems to record reward points, lesson plans or input assessments beyond contact-time in the classroom.
It is this moral compass which drives me is to unpick the rise of edtech, assessment and teacher workload contributing to mental health issues and the (voodoo) accountability metrics which underpin each of these issues. It is those factors which result in many of our teachers leaving teaching prematurely. Whilst few departing teachers leave our classrooms to go on and have a global impact (or at best, have a regional and international footprint on other teachers), I suspect most do not because they have reached a point where they have had enough of all things to do with teaching.
Worse than teacher workload?
Working with a number of schools, I do wonder if our accountability system hinders innovation. That it is falling short of what it was designed to achieve: hold schools to account and recommend improvements. With accountability, we must find ways to keep the people we are evaluating working within the school because we need those qualified professionals to remain in the classroom, not drive them away, comparing apples with pears.
It is those people who already know the answers, those who we need to work alongside, helping them to thrive in our schools working with students, supporting inexperienced colleagues. And worse than the workload and accountability issues blighting all teachers, is that the UK has one of the least experienced teaching workforces in the world! More than a third of all teachers have less than 5 years’ experience and this issue is much wider than England…
The habits of 11 million teachers…
In the video below, you will hear me discuss the insights I have garnered over the last two years ‘on the road’ and from twelve years as a blogger, reaching almost 12 million readers. In many respects, I’ve been more than a virtual headteacher for the last decade, with this website allowing me to analyse teacher behaviours in a range of countries from workload topics to seasonal issues, receiving feedback from a range of professionals.
I’m a huge fan of technology. The type which gives teachers the potential to improve the way in which they work and in some shape or form, reduce workload. It allows me to connect with you here. To teach more efficiently and to work smarter. Technology can now provide teachers with detailed insights into each student, allowing them to perform timely, targeted interventions tailored to that student’s individual needs.
Technology for technology’s sake…
However, despite this new technology giving us the power to transform the way we think, my concern with edtech is that most of it appears to be doing the same thing; keeping us connected to our devices for longer, reporting and analysing student behaviours or assessment scores, and in worst cases, trying to map student mental health in a pie chart! Let’s not even discuss the impact on email culture in schools…
Since at least 2012, the English government has started to take a more active role in tackling teacher workload, but it needs to do much more because teachers are still spending more time on non-teaching tasks (DfE, 2018e). In Northern Ireland, for example, teachers tell me there is a lack of national knowledge about what can be done to enhance wellbeing in schools, and the fact that there hasn’t been an operational government in recent years has exacerbated this further. Various advisory groups and edtech companies are researching and suggesting more effective ways to work, as well as challenging education myths, and whilst it is important to identify workload issues in your school and use the tools available to reduce, improve and maximise the role of the teacher, we should consider more ways to work without reliance on technology and measuring every aspect of school life…
Less, not more technology?
I’m not a stuck in the mud, honestly, but perhaps learning the craft on teaching on a chalkboard gave me the resilience I needed to thrive in the classroom for 25 years; being able to think on my feet and develop the ability to switch to plan B at the drop of a pencil, or is the danger that my thinking is outdated because our tech-savvy teachers can use the technology and equally adapt to plan B.
I do wonder what would happen if we turned the technology off for a day in our schools. Is it more of an accountability issue or a skills issue for teachers?