Teacher workload ‘getting in the way’ of ECF reforms, finds Ofsted

7 key findings from the watchdog's review into professional development

7 key findings from the watchdog's review into professional development

10 May 2023, 0:01

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Teacher workloads are the main barrier for school staff to access professional development opportunities, Ofsted has found

Mounting teacher workloads are “getting in the way” of flagship government training and development reforms, Ofsted has said.

More than half of teachers surveyed also disagreed that recent training they had received was of high quality, interim findings from the first year of the watchdog’s professional development review found.

It follows the introduction of the early career framework (ECF) in 2019 and new national professional qualifications (NPQs) in 2021.

“Schools know that professional development is vital, so it’s disheartening to see poor-quality training and workloads getting in the way,” said Ofsted‘s chief inspector Amanda Spielman.

“The ECF and national professional qualifications (NPQs) are a positive development, but as we would expect with a new programme, there remains some work to do on its implementation.” 

Here are the 7 key findings from the report.

1. Workload barrier for most teachers

Ofsted surveyed 1,953 teachers and leaders in November and December 2021 via YouGov.

HMIs also carried out research visits to 44 primary and secondary schools in the 2022 spring and summer terms.

The majority of classroom teachers (87 per cent) reported workload pressures as a barrier to participating and engaging in training and development.

This was followed by the availability of staff to cover lessons (73 per cent), the cost to the school (68 per cent) and timetable conflicts (67 per cent).

In some cases, teachers said they were using a “significant amount of their own time” on professional development.

Meanwhile, smaller primary schools were found to see workloads as “especially overwhelming”, with middle leaders often also juggling teaching multiple subjects and managing responsibilities to children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The report backs up findings from earlier studies, highlight a particular worry around the workload of teachers to act as mentors to early career teachers (ECTs).

“As a consequence, some school leaders feared that these mentors might not carry out this role with future cohorts of ECTs due to the heavy additional workload it entails,” the report states.

2. Training often poor-quality

More than half of respondents disagreed that they had been provided with relevant (53 per cent) or high-quality (54 per cent) training since April 2021.

Early career teachers (ECTs) highlighted the lack of flexibility in the programme, a “perception that course materials are irrelevant” and the unavailability of mentors.

Teachers undertaking NPQs also mentioned that occasionally course content was “repetitive or lacked relevance”.

But the report insisted that such “teething problems” were “not uncommon when major new programmes are being rolled out”.

3. Limited awareness of reforms

Classroom teachers also appeared to have limited awareness of the government’s reforms, with only 28 per cent saying they were “very aware”.

Just 43 per cent said they were “very aware” of the new early career framework.

The comparative figures for leaders were better – at 54 per cent and 78 per cent respectively.

4. Online training ‘boring’

As a response to lockdowns during Covid, schools commonly provided online training.

But while Ofsted’s evidence showed it helps teachers access development opportunities more regularly, teachers frequently said online sessions were “increasingly boring and demotivating”.

There was a strong preference for face-to-face teaching, with teachers and leaders often saying that collaborative working and knowledge-sharing were missing from remote sessions.

5. ‘Preparing for inspection’ courses criticised

Respondents to the YouGov survey had typically received more training and development on knowledge of the curriculum (36 per cent) than any other topic.

“Given that the curriculum represents the substance of education, this is a welcome finding,” the report said.

But it added that in around half of schools visited by HMIs, “it was clear that the staff’s understanding of planning and designing a curriculum remained limited”.

In several cases, teachers had done courses “on preparing for inspection, such as practising deep dives or preparing curriculum intent statements, neither of which are about the substance of education”.

6. Impact of wellbeing focus ‘unclear’

Schools visits also found teachers and leaders were using development time to focus on pupils’ mental health and other pastoral activities.

“This was so that they could better support pupils to re-engage in their learning following the pandemic,” the report said.

More than half of the schools visited said this was the most important aspect of teacher training for the 2021-22 academic year.

But the report stated: “It remains unclear, however, whether this is yet having an impact and how effectively schools are able to work with other bodies to address pupils’ wider personal, behavioural and social needs.”

7. Teachers want more SEND training

Thirty per cent of respondents said they needed more professional development in ‘teaching students with SEND’ – the top response.

Ofsted said this is “not surprising, because there has been an increase in the number of pupils identified as having SEND. Also, there is a shortfall in special school places. These factors have increased the pressure on SEND provision in mainstream schools.”

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