DfE: More schools tackling workload, despite poor take-up of new 'toolkit'

Ministers say more schools are tackling teacher workload, despite less than half of leaders having made use of new government guidance on the issue.

A Department for Education survey found 94 per cent of school leaders are taking steps to reduce workload relating to marking, up from 88 per cent last year.

However, just 46 per cent of leaders said they had used the DfE’s “workload reduction toolkit”, which was published around a year ago.

Although we welcome any reductions in the areas of marking and planning, information from our members suggests that they’re looking in the wrong direction

The government was ridiculed over the toolkit after it was published the day after schools broke up for the summer last year, and again when it emerged in March that less than one in five teachers had downloaded it.

In recent years, the DfE has sought to tackle cultures that lead to excessive workloads in schools, including those created by the government and Ofsted.

Today, the education secretary Damian Hinds welcomed the positive steps taken in many schools.

Of 836 school leaders and over 1,000 classroom teachers surveyed, 78 per cent of school leaders reported having reduced workload relaitng to planning, up from 71 per cent last year.

“It’s hugely encouraging to see school leaders having the confidence to do away with those unnecessary tasks that are stopping teachers from doing what they do best,” said Hinds.

However, despite the improvement seen in this survey, the latest teaching and learning international survey (TALIS) survey carried out by the OECD shows that workload has, in fact, increased.

“The results of the TALIS survey published last month show there is still a long way to go to address all of the frustrations I regularly hear from teachers and heads,” admitted Hinds.

“However, I intend to continue my battle to reduce teachers’ workload and back schools who make sure they are doing everything they can to reduce the number of hours teachers are spending on non-teaching tasks.”

Dr Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the workload problem in schools “is not going away and is arguably getting worse”.

“The obsession with performance tables remains, and this is a driver for so much that is negative in the working culture of schools,” she said.

“Damian Hinds makes passing reference to TALIS in today’s statement but neglects to mention the unflattering findings of this respected international survey. It shows that working hours are on the rise, with an unacceptable working week of 52.1 hours for primary teachers in England and 49.3 hours in lower secondary.

“Although we welcome any reductions in the areas of marking and planning, information from our members suggests that they’re looking in the wrong direction.”

In a letter addressed to all local authorities and academy trusts, the education secretary urged for cuts of data burden on schools.

Hinds’ letter builds on his pledge in the recruitment and retention strategy, released in January 2019, to tackle the “audit culture” of excessive data tracking in schools, and to simplify the accountability system to clarify when a school may be subject to intervention.

The DfE has also worked with Ofsted on its new inspection framework, which has reducing teacher workload as one of its aims.