After the election results, the government now needs to make good on its election promises.
With the recent election outcome, we can now only hope Nicky Morgan keeps to the promises made in the Department for Education’s (DfE) Workload Challenge report published in February. Reading back over the details this half-term, I have decided to look at each of the recommendations listed in the Government Response to the Workload Challenge in closer detail.
I’d also like to offer my practical suggestions for school leaders in the hope that we can all promise to use these strategies for tackling workload in schools.
In the 38 weeks of term time, teachers are contracted to work 32.5 hours per week – yet most teachers and leaders report between 50 to 60 hours per week managing their workload. It may not happen in my lifetime, but I do hope to see a day when teachers’ timetables are reduced so we have more time set aside for planning and marking.
For now, the Government Response to the Workload Challenge sets out six actions.
The number one commitment was to introduce a national policy setting out the minimum lead-in times for significant curriculum, qualifications and accountability changes. The DfE has already put out a notice saying they will give at least a year’s notice for any changes and there should be no more “in-year” changes. Let’s hope they mean it!
The number two commitment from the government was to assess teacher workload with a bi-annual survey. I can never recall a workload challenge which has been so prominent and so I really hope that we see a survey like this again – at least twice over – in the next five years.
Thirdly, the DFE outlined an action plan for Ofsted. It asks them to clarify what inspectors want and what they do not want to see in schools, and to publish “facts” and “myths” about what is expected to stop gimmicky teaching.
We must create a ‘work-life’ balance rather than ‘work-work’
The fourth priority is very relevant to myself: support for school leaders. Apart from the direct support I receive from my own headteacher, I cannot think of any other support network – other than CPD I have created for myself – designed to support school leaders in very demanding situations. We already know that 1 in 4 headteacher vacancies across England and Wales are left unfilled. I know the day I decide to step up to headship (if it arrives), I will become a rare commodity.
Programmes such as Future Leaders, Teaching Leaders and support from MAT programmes, the NCTL and the SSAT have so much to offer. It is the duty of all headteachers to share these developmental leadership programmes with current and aspiring school leaders.
Fifth and foremost, the government wants every single teacher to have access to a better evidence base, with a one-stop-shop where they can publish and access academic research.
The DfE hopes to develop “research schools” and publish examples of what is working in classrooms. This is a fabulous idea, but will it work? I wish we had started this a decade ago when I first started my school-focused masters degree.
Finally, the sixth priority on the government’s action plan is a commitment for a panel to be established to develop principles for good data and ICT management in schools. I have yet to work in a school where ICT is so well organised that it actually drives teaching and learning rather than supports it.
For the government to be able to meet all of their commitments, the DfE, school leaders and the teaching community must begin to address the strategies for tackling workload in schools.
We owe it to ourselves to fulfil our own promises. We must stop requesting that teachers complete individual lesson plans. We must stop filling teacher timetables up to 90 per cent or more. We must stop pointless meetings, and chalk and talk INSET days. On assessment we should stop the marking frenzy and the need for duplication of reports and data tracking. Ask for it once, complete the task online, make the data live, have sources that talk to each other.
On graded lessons, we must also stop. We must ask teachers to observe each other and prompt professional dialogue, dissemination and reflection.
Finally, we should stop any expectation that teaching staff should work beyond 40 hours per week. If workload cannot be completed in this time, it should not be assumed that it will be completed at home. This can be done by stopping unnecessary emails and creating an ethos of “work-life balance” rather than “work-work”.