How to reduce teacher workload? The answer is simple…

Cut time in the classroom to one-third. It will be expensive, but it is what teachers need have a radical solution to stop the endless workload rhetoric offered by politicians in lip-service conferences typically attended by few classroom teachers, but filled instead with school leaders, policymakers and educators.

When the outcomes of the Department for Education’s “Workload Challenge’’ consultation were published in February it was alarming, yet not surprising, to read that unnecessary lesson planning was the chief concern of 38 per cent of respondents.

The report said: “Respondents … focus on the level of detail required in plans to be submitted, including annotated seating plans for each class and justifying their decisions made . . . to change and revisit plans during the course of a week as lessons have developed . . . tight deadlines to submit weekly lesson plans – including deadlines over the weekend . . .”

In the meantime, education secretary Nicky Morgan keeps saying: “I want to build a new deal for teacher workload – and I need your help.”

Imagine! Directed time for planning, marking and reflecting during the school day

So here it is Mrs Morgan; the answer is simple. In fact, the way to reduce unnecessary paperwork and unproductive tasks for all classroom teachers is so simple that it will astound many school leaders and politicians alike.

The only issue is that it is so unassuming some might think it unrealistic.

Allow me to convince you.

After 23 years in the classroom, the reader could calculate (broadly) that I have taught about 15,000 lessons based upon 190 days per academic year. It is on this basis that I’m certain it’s viable.

Remember, the full-time classroom teacher, day-in, day-out, teaches 90 per cent of a 25 to 30-hour timetabled week.

This leaves a mere 10 per cent of time allocated to complete two remaining, yet fundamental, aspects of the role: marking and planning. This places an incredible burden on that 10 per cent – and leaves all other tasks to be completed in our own time.

To reduce workload, we need to consider reducing teaching load to one-third. That way, we could teach for 33 per cent of the time and divide the remaining 66 per cent between planning and marking.

Imagine that! Directed time for planning lessons, marking books and reflecting on teaching and learning during the school day. The answer is so simple it will be sniggered at.

The proposal will cost money, which is why it may fall on deaf ears. But, if we want to move towards a best-practice model for reducing teacher workload, we should consider how teachers actually spend their time.

Plus, consider this final fact.

The DfE recommends that schools use 75 to 80 per cent of their general annual grant — the money paid to schools by the Education Funding Agency “based on a formula provided by [your] local authority”— on staffing. The amount is calculated from
a comparable school budget share and the number of pupils a school is responsible for. Guidance tells school leaders that the
grant is calculated with staffing expenditure based at three-quarters of a school’s annual budget.

Staffing costs represent the largest area of expenditure for all schools, with the relationship between the number of
teachers and pupils financially and educationally critical.

The key word here though is “recommendation”. If schools were to action a small increase in their staffing budgets beyond the amount specified, they could employ more staff, deploy other staff to share the workload and release many teachers from the constraints that we are all so accustomed to.

Beyond this, my manifesto for Nicky Morgan to support working conditions is also simple. She should give the profession time to consolidate, and trust teachers to carry out recent reforms. She should challenge the purpose of Ofsted and remove high-stakes accountability and numerical judgments from the process. She should share good news stories about the profession, with the profession, and she should listen to the profession and to evidence on what is important in schools.

I said that it was simple. Honestly, it is.


Ross McGill is deputy head of Quintin Kynaston Community Academy in north London

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  1. …and consider students not as irresponsible, lazy hooligans who need to be fed lessons all day, but as real people who want to figure out who they are and how they can contribute to this world. How can this happen? Don’t give students 100% timetabled lessons. In fact, talking from a student perspective, I’m nervous about an idea that might put students on the receiving end of full-days of well planned and packed lessons… please give us time to breathe! to play! to discover and create and discuss! You know, around 33% actual lesson time would probably do just fine. Oops, maybe we’ve just figured out a solution that doesn’t involve a heouge cash injection?

  2. Rosellie

    Brilliant and radical. Sadly, the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of the two main political parties are unlikely to go for it. It costs money and the real intention of the current government is to dismantle state education and privatise the school system. I hear that conditions are even worse for teachers in academies and free schools. We definitely need to fight back.

  3. Personally I’m a great supporter of simple answers. However…..

    The current schools budget is £41.3bn. Let us assume that 50% of that is currently spent on teachers. This amounts to £20.6bn. The article suggests moving from 90% contact time to 33%. What would this cost? The answer to this question is simple. The cost would be £35.7bn. Not far off requiring a doubling of the schools budget.

    Now even allowing for the fact that the 50% is a guess, and that the 90% figure does not allow for teachers who have less contact time due to management responsibilities I think you will agree that is a significant cost. To help understand the scale, it would require an increase in the basic rate of income tax from 20% to 28%. Now I’m no politician, but I would suggest that was unsellable as a policy. Even enabling the maintenance of school budgets in “real” real-terms is difficult (http://wp.me/pwh7n-iz ).

    As i say, I like simple answers, but they have also to be realistic.

  4. I think this might work in secondary schools. I think the answer for primary is different. More time out of class and more cover teachers (short time each week PPA or an HLTA) creates more behaviour problems and further damages the learning. The tendency in primary schools is to nominate a subject such as Art, Music etc and have a PPA person covering classes for that lesson. The result is lost learning opportunities. Primary school teachers join everything together. They make connections between subjects, know pupils targets and create opportunities for targeted literacy and numeracy throughout the day.
    I think in primary what we need is not more PPA but less pressure for things to be done a specific way. It is that pressure that creates the workload problem in primary schools. That feel that the management looking over your shoulder have decided how planning, marking, assessment etc will be done but have made those decisions from outside the classroom without considering how the expectations fit into the two hours of PPA each teacher receives each week.
    We should remove the assumption that teachers are prepared to spend all Sundays producing planning and marking books. The work being asked of the teachers should fit into their current time and that way the teacher can spend more of their day teaching. PPA is OK but not if it takes a staff member we are paying to teach out of the classroom and away from children so they can sit in front of a computer screen and produce a time wasting piece of paper that nobody will ever really read.
    Here are my thoughts on workload:

  5. Steve Haywood

    In essence that 10% of time devoted to planning and marking gets absorbed into other activities such as updating SLT on predictions, completing reports, responding to internal e mails and attending impromtu meetings. The number of times that I have been in a room planning or marking to be disturbed by another member of staff (usually SLT or HoD) who want a quick word. A response that this is my PPA time is usually ignored

  6. I do think the answer for Primary Teachers is not more PPA – I agree. I actually think e-learning portfolios and greater use of the technology that already exists would help. I don’t want to print off 30 pictures and stick them in a book. I would rather they were part of the child’s ongoing learning – part of an ebook where they can explain what they were doing. Work in actual books should be restricted to writing and even then you have to ask is touch typing not a required skill these days? I have heard the gross/fine motor skills argument many times but lets face if we managed to develop these before the advent of writing!!

  7. I found the responses to your article as interesting and illuminating: one camp vehemently proclaims 33% contact time to be the answer and the other calls it foolish and irrelevant! Should we not rather look at the principle proposed by Ross? Lower the contact time in order for planning and assessment to form part of the work day.

    There are many ways in which the other 66% (or whatever figure) is used – Online learning, independent research, self-study. This could create a model where students also don’t have to take homework home.

    Just because we’re used to a current system doesn’t make it the best system.

    Thanks, Ross, for rattling our cages!