Teacher workload is an ever-present crisis, but Steve Mastin argues that it stems from bad senior leadership, not the government
I love teaching. I get to discuss history with enthusiastic young minds, helping them to share my passion for the past. I also get to work alongside dedicated and inspiring colleagues, learning from them as I progress in my career. And what’s more, I get paid to do something I love.
Don’t get me wrong; some days are tougher than others.
Even if you work in a school where strict behaviour is maintained you will still have some difficult experiences. Any teacher will tell you that you invest so much emotionally and physically in your work. Despite what some of my friends think, my job does not begin at registration and end when the bell goes.
Good teachers put their all into a single lesson, even if they have taught for many years since the way in which pupils respond is different every time.
A good teacher will know that you read the class, looking into pupils’ eyes to check they understand and putting into place strategies for helping those who didn’t quite get it the first time around. You leave school having taught your lessons but also having done so much more. And this does not take into account those who go the extra mile and organise afterschool sporting fixtures, run clubs, lead trips, who rehearse a choir or volunteer to be the Duke of Edinburgh coordinator.
Last term, I was moved when I read about the plight of a recent graduate who was leaving the profession due to the pressure of an unreasonable workload. A bright, passionate 22-year-old said he was leaving to “restore his emotional and psychological wellbeing”. The problem was workload and everything he cited was the fault not of the DfE but his school’s culture. His story is sadly familiar.
Over the years, workload has increased in different ways.
Pupil learning styles was one of them: kinaesthetic, visual and aural learners need to be catered for in lesson planning. Personal, thinking and learning skills (PLTS) had to be mapped across the curriculum with evidence that pupils were meeting them.
I sat through one staff meeting about ‘thinking hats’. Most of us were thinking about how we could have used that one hour to mark books
I sat through one staff meeting about De Bono’s ‘thinking hats’, encouraging us to try to build them into our lessons. Most of us were thinking about how we could have used that one hour to mark books or plan lessons.
Many teachers have had to divide up national curriculum levels, against the advice of Ofsted and the DfE, both horizontally and vertically, so they can mark individual pieces of work in year 7 to show “progress”, differentiating lessons in six different ways to “engage” pupils.
The latest workload burden for many is dialogic marking, or triple marking, in which the teacher writes a comment on childrens’ work, and pupils then respond in green pen, redrafting their work.
The teacher is then obliged to look at again, thus taking time away from teaching.
No example I cited has ever been required by Ofsted or the DfE. The buck stops with schools when it comes to creating a culture of work for teachers. Many leaders are under considerable pressure to raise standards and, at times, have unintentionally increased the burden on their already diligent teachers. They need to have the confidence to trust their professional judgment and not add to teachers’ workload.
Can anything be stripped back to the basics of good teaching? Why are some teachers spending an hour creating a PowerPoint with animations? Is the whole-school marking policy part of the problem? Are those additional meetings useful? Is the reporting system onerous? If a new idea is implemented, have leaders been honest with staff about the additional workload?
Teacher workload is the responsibility of schools. School leaders can add to it or reduce it. The schools minister, Nick Gibb, categorically stated that triple marking should not be used.
There is a serious workload crisis in some schools and it is not the fault of the DfE. The next time your workload is added to, ask where this has come from.
Steve Mastin is chairman of the Conservative Education Society