The Department for Education last week published the results of its Workload Challenge. It may have been launched with much fanfare, but the department’s reaction is little more than a damp squib

According to education secretary Nicky Morgan, the aim of the Workload Challenge was to provide teachers with an opportunity to tell her about their key workload concerns and to share their views on what the government, schools and others should be doing to reduce unnecessary and unproductive workload. At the launch in October last year, she promised teachers and school leaders: “We want to work with…the whole of the teaching profession, to see what we can do to reduce this burden – to offer you a new deal.”

The difficulty for the Coalition Government, however, is that its proposed steps to reduce workload fall well short of the secretary of state’s bold pledges.

That teachers and school leaders have been suffering serious increases in their workload was evident to ministers long before the challenge. Since 2011, the NASUWT has provided written evidence to the DfE that not only detailed the nature and extent of the significant increases in workload since the Coalition took office, but also explained the underlying causes of these increases.

The NASUWT has conducted an annual survey each year since 2011 of teachers’ opinions about their working lives;
thousands have responded, identifying workload as a top concern.

It’s clear: ministers have over-promised and under-delivered on tackling teacher workload

Unfortunately, it was only with the prospect of an impending general election that ministers decided that the time was right to address workload publicly. However, late though this recognition was, it was welcome that the Coalition had at least acknowledged the extent of the problems their education reforms and policies had created, although it was made clear that ministers would not contemplate significant changes in policy.

Understandably, ministers’ sympathetic public pronouncements and the launch of the Workload Challenge raised teachers’ expectations that meaningful action would be taken to address the problem. In a letter to Mrs Morgan sent after the launch, the NASUWT specified 10 simple and practical steps that ministers could implement immediately to alleviate some of the excessive burdens on teachers.

These included ministers sending out a clear message to all schools that long working hours and excessive workload burdens were unacceptable and that school leaders and employers must take action to address these concerns. The NASUWT also recommended that the DfE and ministers commit to undertaking an annual teachers’ workload diary survey, drawing on the approach of previous similar surveys, to establish a baseline against which the effectiveness of future action to address excessive workload could be assessed.

The response to the challenge was therefore profoundly disappointing and demonstrated its contempt for teachers.

In its response, the DfE has wilfully misinterpreted and misrepresented the clear evidence provided by thousands of teachers about their chronic workload burdens as a consequence of this government’s policies. The steps proposed by the DfE in its response either reflect existing inadequate commitments or completely fail to address the causes and consequences of excessive workload.

The fact that the government has only agreed to undertake a survey of teachers’ workload on a two-yearly basis when previous surveys have been conducted annually simply beggars belief.

The DfE’s own evidence from the challenge underlines the fact that it has created a culture in schools where anything goes, where needless and counter-productive workload burdens are heaped on teachers, and where any adverse impact on their health and wellbeing is simply regarded as collateral damage. Nothing in the DfE’s report on the Workload Challenge will address this.

In fact, anyone reading the report would be forgiven for thinking that workload is a marginal issue, that the current teacher recruitment crisis does not exist and that nearly two-thirds of teachers are not seriously considering quitting the profession.

The verdict is clear: ministers have over-promised and under-delivered on tackling teacher workload. It is now beyond dispute that the only respite for teachers will come from a change of government in May.