Small schools dub new workload admin list ‘unrealistic’

Schools need more funding to cut teacher working hours, warn leaders

Schools need more funding to cut teacher working hours, warn leaders

An attempt by the government to reduce teacher workload with a revamped and reduced list of tasks has been described by small schools as “unrealistic” without “extra funding”.

The Department for Education’s workload reduction taskforce has published early recommendations from its work to help ministers cut teachers’ average working week by five hours.

Ministers accepted a recommendation to scrap the “bureaucratic requirement” of performance-related pay in schools, but snubbed calls for an additional workload-focused INSET day.

The taskforce said a revised list of administrative tasks that “teachers should not be required to carry out” be reinserted into the school teachers’ pay and conditions document (STPCD). This was accepted by the government.

Examples include collecting money from pupils and parents, decorating classrooms, managing cover for absent teachers, bulk photocopying, and investigating pupil absence.

‘Sadly laughable’

But Liz Harros, executive head of The Wolds Federation, formed of three small church schools in the East Riding of Yorkshire, said the idea her schools would find other staff to pick up the tasks set out was “sadly laughable.”

“I think if I could have three caretakers on site all the time, if I could have at least another full time teaching assistant, plus an admin person in each school, I think we would be onto a winner, but we’re struggling already to do the things that we’re doing.

“I can’t tell you how many times last term I had to collect the meals, deliver the meals, serve the meals and wash up. And I’m the executive headteacher.”

Matthew Herbert, head of Reedness Primary School in Goole, also in Yorkshire, said a part-time teacher, cleaner, caretaker, and lunchtime supervisor “are all the same person.”

“The whole point of a small school is that you’re all a team together and you all chip in. If you’re taking these from teachers, I don’t know who you’re going to give them to.”

Reedness, which has a deficit of around 10 per cent of its total budget, would need “at least one more full-time person” to take the list of tasks away from teachers.

“I get where the government is coming from. I just think it’s a little bit unrealistic. There’s no extra money in the system.”

The government said the list was only illustrative and said it is likely it would be added to the STPCD for next year.

‘Schools need proper funding’

James Bowen, assistant general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said there was an “important wider point here about the funding and capacity schools have.”

He said: “For this to work schools need to be properly funded so they have the necessary support and admin staff in place. That is particularly true for smaller schools where staffing levels and capacity are often much tighter.”

James Bowen
James Bowen

But larger schools also face issues with the list of tasks. Clare Skinner, business leader at Kings Norton Girls’ School in Birmingham, said most of the tasks were already done by support staff.

She said some tasks “popped out” at her as they currently require teacher involvement. For example, teachers are involved in planning school trips that fit with the curriculum.

Ordering supplies is another task that needs teacher input,” Skinner explained. If they were not involved, the school would need somebody “maintaining inventories, giving stock takes on a regular basis, distributing resources out to various parts of the school.”

“All school leaders would say yes, we’d love to take every single piece of admin away from teachers so they can focus on their teaching and learning. But in some settings, I can’t see how that’s going to work without investment in more people.”

A damning report leaked to Schools Week last year showed classroom teachers’ average working week has reduced by less than an hour in three years. Leaders work longer on average than they did in 2019.

On performance-related pay, the government is expected to do a “rapid” review to come up with a replacement system that is “less bureaucratic way to manage performance fairly and transparently”.

Changes would be communicated in spring and introduced in September. Many schools have already ditched the practice.

What happens next?

The group will now look at themes including the impact and unintended consequences of accountability on workload, which will include school inspections.

Also under the microscope will be contractual provisions in the STPCD, technological solutions, the impact of pressures on wider public services on schools, parental expectations and complaints, and culture across the education system.

Final recommendations will be put to ministers and the sector before the end of March.

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