How do we help teachers get their Sunday nights back?
Despite research suggesting teacher workload is reducing, the number of hours teachers work during term time remains far above their contractual duties …
Ask any teacher about that ‘Sunday night’ feeling and they will describe a ‘stomach-wrenching feeling’ about going back to work.
This can happen to any teacher, even those working in a school where they feel very positive and happy.
But, what makes teaching different from any other industry that goes back to work on a Monday morning?
Well, the obvious fact is that teachers have 30 young people around the legs every hour of the day.
This makes getting any work done ‘outside of teaching hours’ impossible to do!
Many people forget that teachers don’t simply teach, they have to mark books, make phone calls, complete lesson plans, refine curriculum strategy and attend (perhaps) one or two one-hour meetings after school hours. All within a contractual duty of 32.5 hours makes this is quite a tall order!
The state of the nation
I’ve been investigating teacher workload across England for over a decade. Reducing this burden for teachers, against woeful government support, drives much of what I do to help remedy the situation.
Teachers in state schools are contracted for 1,265 hours per academic year. If we multiply 50 hours (mean workload) by 38 school weeks, that’s 1,900 hours to keep up with the administration outside of the classroom.
One example that helps is the five-minute lesson plan – loved by millions, detested by a few – and once cited by the Department for Education as a great example of a teaching resource to reduce workload (see page 22).
It continues to be the number one resource downloaded on this site.
There is now an artificial intelligence-generated version if you’ve missed it.
Sometimes decisions made by schools drive teacher workload too.
For example, marking continues to be the number one thing that drives teachers absolutely bonkers.
I’ve surveyed over 100,000 teachers over the last seven years in a variety of school settings, including internationally.
In every context, teachers tell me that marking drives them nuts!
Workload is much worse in schools that insist marking must be completed once a week, or with a specific colour pen.
I can understand why these two decisions could be something school leaders want.
Many schools seek consistency, but I have yet to find any school that claims to have achieved it. Other valid reasons include evidencing that feedback is happening for external partners (parents and inspectors) or simply, that ‘some’ students need help decoding teacher feedback.
On the latter point, this is entirely acceptable, but why insist that it happens once every week?
This is when someone in leadership decides to place assessment at the heart of teaching and learning rather than the curriculum, with assessment now driving how the curriculum is implemented rather than the other way around.
If we factor in that only 9% of schools have a workload and wellbeing committee, we still have a long way to go.
If we consider research on implementation science, schools lack the time to rigorously evaluate past policy decisions. Most decision-making is made during ‘policy design’ and is spent on consultation and/or launch rather than embedding and reviewing.
Reviewing school policy decisions is an essential process schools and school leaders must implement carefully, particularly on the decisions they make and how it impacts on teacher workload.
This is essential if they wish to retain teachers working in their school.
Why change key procedures, for example, in your behaviour policy or teaching and learning policy, if you don’t later review how any change improved standards or increased or decreased teacher workload?
What can schools do?
My impartial macro perspective is helping schools’ develop teaching and learning policies that want to maintain high standards but seek more intelligent ways of securing accountability from the teachers and students.
On my travels, I continue to share the Verbal Feedback Project – a case study of 13 state schools, working (proportionately) with higher levels of students living deprivation – in schools that typically ask teachers to mark once a week.
As a result of this research, these schools and teachers no longer mark books, instead opting for live assessment (verbal feedback) techniques in the classroom (during the working day), which have a more immediate impact on students, and reduce teacher workload.
Teachers now get their Sunday nights back, using any ‘gain time’ to plan better lessons. As a consequence, they can better meet the needs of their students.
When I cite “how to evidence verbal feedback” and its impact on students, the irony is lost on some.
The report suggests that you can document many sources of evidence, other than written feedback in students’ books.
This is the point.
Teachers no longer need to mark books exclusively.
Whilst ‘written feedback’ should not be abolished, understanding of ‘What assessment is for teachers?‘ is a good starting point for schools yet to move forward.
Where schools implement efficient feedback strategies, moving away from traditional marking methods, they are essentially helping teachers reclaim their Sunday nights. This means that teachers are happier, spending more time with their families, and more likely to stay working with that school.