The government is set to miss its secondary teacher recruitment target for the 10th time in 11 years. A record rate of teachers left the profession last year.
Alongside the 6.5 per cent pay deal, the government this week unveiled a new workload reduction taskforce charged with cutting five hours from teachers’ working week.
But ministers have been trying to drive down workload for the best part of a decade, with progress slowing significantly in recent years.
Schools Week investigates…
What has been announced?
A workload reduction taskforce, made up of 14 sector leaders, has been set the challenge of slashing five hours from the working week of teachers and school leaders within three years.
The government will publish an updated recruitment and retention strategy this winter – setting out priorities for the coming years and updating on whether previous commitments have been met.
The workload taskforce was promised as part of the government’s pay deal with unions to end teacher strikes. It met for the first time on Wednesday.
The deal included a “revised list of administrative tasks that teachers should not be expected to do” into the schoolteachers’ pay and conditions handbook.
Initial teacher training (ITT) recruitment figures shows just over half of required trainee secondary teachers are set to be recruited this year – despite a rise in bursaries for many subjects.
The panel will be tasked with turning around stalling progress on cutting workloads.
The government’s 2014 workload challenge led to about five hours being shaved off teachers’ average working week by 2019, which then stood at 49.5 hours.
However, the 2023 workload survey showed classroom teachers’ working week has fallen by less than an hour in three years.
At the current rate, it would take more than six years to realise the government’s pledge to reduce teachers’ workload by five hours a week.
Leaders now work longer on average, up from 55.1 hours in 2019 to 56.8 this year.
The teacher workload gains already made
Schools minister Nick Gibb said the DfE wanted to “build on the past successes in reducing workloads and continue to remove additional burdens, so that teachers can focus on what they do best: teach”.
The 2014 workload challenge identified recording, inputting and analysing data, marking, lesson planning, and administrative and support tasks as areas presenting the greatest opportunities to reduce workloads.
In its response to a consultation with the sector, the DfE encouraged schools to think about “sparing use” of more detailed and written feedback and “effective use” of whole school data management systems.
It also encouraged the use of “tablets” for planning, assessment and recording lesson notes and more “peer and self-assessment”.
A 2019 DfE teacher workload survey found the average total self-reported working hours for teachers and middle leaders in 2019 was 49.5, down from 54.4 in 2016.
The survey found reductions in reported working hours were “concentrated in DfE’s areas of focus following the 2014 workload challenge”.
Compared to 2016, teachers and leaders reported spending fewer hours on marking or correcting pupils’ work, individual planning and preparation lessons, and undertaking pupil supervision and tuition.
But there is still scope to go further…
While progress has been made, research shows there is still scope to go further. A government-commissioned report on workload reduction this July found leaders and teachers estimate they still worked more than seven “unnecessary hours” a week on average – down from 8.75 hours five years ago.
Other government reports have highlighted that non-teaching tasks remain an issue. Its working lives of teachers and leaders’ survey found that about half of teachers said data recording, inputting and analysis, individual lesson planning and marking took up “too much” time.
A separate government-backed study exploring teachers’ admin time, published this year, found more support staff were needed to prevent teachers spending 380 hours a year on admin.
Jack Worth, workforce lead at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), said workloads were still hampered by “a lot of the same issues – they haven’t gone away”.
In terms of admin and marking, he added: “I’m sure there’s more easy, low-hanging fruit [the taskforce could look to] to reduce admin time.”
…And where to look for more workload gains
Nansi Ellis, former NEU assistant general secretary and education policy specialist, was part of the planning and resources review group under the 2014 workload challenge. She suggested the taskforce should “remind” schools of the government messaging last time round.
“That was the period of triple-marking … but a lot of schools are still doing it,” said Ellis. She added that where schools had moved to verbal feedback over written marking in the intervening years, other issues could have cropped up “around recording that feedback”.
Ellis said advancements in technology could be harnessed: “[The taskforce] need to be asking the question of whether we actually need to do that work, or whether technology could do it quicker.”
The DfE has launched a call for evidence about the future use of AI in education, amid hopes it could save time. A Teacher Tapp survey this month showed a third of teachers were using tools such as ChatGPT to help with work.
As part of the response to the workload challenge, the DfE asked Ofsted to make changes to reduce workloads. These included clarification about what is required by inspectors, offering shorter inspections to good schools and “simplifying and shortening” its handbook.
However, Helena Marsh, principal at Linton Village College and another former member of the department’s workload review groups, said the shift in focus from results to curriculum in the 2019 education inspection framework led to “a lot of schools feeling they had to do a lot of new stuff. So, I think it’s worth going back and looking at those things.”
‘The landscape has shifted’
Marsh pointed out that the “landscape has shifted” since before the pandemic.
A report from wellbeing charity Education Support found in May that most school staff were working at least four extra hours a week to provide additional support to pupils, amid warnings that schools are now the “de facto and unofficial brand of social and healthcare services”.
NFER research published this month showed leaders have expanded the scale and range of support available to pupils in response to the cost-of-living crisis.
Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association and a member of the DfE’s new workload taskforce, said the group must consider “the additional challenges that have been handed to schools because of what’s happening in the world around them.
“We need to seriously look at what is reasonable for schools to take on and what really does need to be covered by other people.”
Marsh added increased workload wasn’t just down to staff attending to more pastoral needs themselves, but demonstrating that they had done so.
There is no extra cash
The workload push comes with no additional cash. “High levels of workload are driven by the underfunding of the education system, which leaves teachers and leaders doing more work with fewer resources,” said ASCL union general secretary Geoff Barton.
He remains “sceptical about whether there is the will in government to take some of the steps that are required”.
Ellis added that areas with the potential for a “massive reduction” in workload include “supporting children with [SEND]. If you had the staffing you needed for that… or there weren’t children coming in needing uniforms washed or food given to them.”
Knights questioned whether workload reduction could boost retention, with pay and incentives going “hand in hand” with workloads.
“We need this work to be alongside a real look at pay incentives,” she added.
All four unions wrote to education secretary Gillian Keegan on Thursday calling for “urgent proposals” to “repair the damage to teacher pay”.
They called for the School Teachers’ Review Body to be given a remit on workload to make recommendations “that will speed up the reductions in workload, working time and work intensity that are necessary and urgent in schools”.
Not just about reducing teacher hours
In its report this year, the STRB called for the withdrawal of the obligation on schools to operate performance-related pay progression (PRP). The body ruled the “burden of administering it exceeds any benefit that it is achieving”.
The unions called on Keegan to ditch PRP immediately, as it made “critical workload problems worse”. Many schools and trusts have already stopped using it.
The unions want a return to a “fair pay progression” system that automatically awards pay rises each year based on experience. Experts such as Worth also warn that “it’s not just about reducing hours, it’s about improving teachers’ perceptions of their job”.
Ellis suggests frustration around workloads is partly over tasks that feel “less meaningful” and that a risk lies in schools cutting tasks that “make the job enjoyable”.
Despite the barriers, Knights remained optimistic. “We need to achieve [a fall of five hours] and we don’t want to go into this process being defeatist,” she said.
Meet the new teacher workload reduction taskforce:
- James Bowen, assistant general secretary,
National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT)
- Cassie Buchanan, CEO, Charter Schools
- Jon Hutchinson, director of training and
development, Reach Foundation
- Emma Knights and Emma Balchin, co-chief
executives, National Governance Association
- Selena Lansley, senior advisor for workforce
and negotiations, Local Government
- Stuart Lock, CEO, Advantage Schools
- Sinéad Mc Brearty, CEO, Education Support
- Darren Northcott, national official, National
Association of Schoolmasters and Union of
Women Teachers (NASUWT)
- Adrian Prandle, director of government
relations and workforce policy, National
Education Union (NEU)
- Steve Rollett, deputy chief executive,
Confederation of School Trusts (CST)
- Janet Sheriff, CEO, Collaborative Learning
- Dr Sam Sims, lecturer, UCL Institute of
Education – Centre for Education Policy and
- Sara Tanton, deputy director of policy,
Association of School and College Leaders
- Kate Treacy, English teacher, Parliament Hill
Flexible working resources
A toolkit with “practical resources” launches this month to help leaders “embed flexible working” in their schools. This includes information on job shares, part-time working and
Five more flexible working ambassador trusts have been named, adding to the seven announced in June and delivering the 12 promised by the government. They are:
- Lapal Primary School, part of Hales Valley Trust
- Newport Girls’ High School Academy Trust
- Aspire Alternative Provision School
- The Halifax Academy, part of Impact Education Multi-Academy Trust
- The Reach Academy Feltham