The diversity of ability within England’s classrooms is contributing to high teacher workload and needs new strategies that may include streaming and fewer teaching assistants, a researcher has claimed.
Research into teacher workload published by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) on Monday found that secondary school teachers in England work 48.2 hours a week on average.
The analysis of the OECD’s latest Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) found only two of the 36 developed countries surveyed reported longer hours.
The EPI report also found that teaching assistants (TAs) do not cut overall teacher workload, and that England has a higher range of academic ability and additional needs in its classrooms than other OECD countries, which may increase lesson planning time.
Peter Sellen, chief economist at the EPI, said teachers either needed better initial training in additional educational needs, or ministers should consider other schooling models.
“What you can’t have is highly differentiated learning and not very much time to plan lessons. That combination can’t work, but that’s what we’re at risk of having.
“It shows that diversity in the classroom and the need to spend more time planning does make it harder for workload, and that’s partly why there’s always been streaming in mainstream schools.
Teachers either need better initial training in additional educational needs, or ministers should consider other schooling models.
“And if your model is not to segregate children very much, that’s fine, but then you need to realise that your teachers need more time to plan – and then you need more teachers.”
Twenty-four per cent of teachers in OECD countries worked in schools with on average 10 per cent or more special educational needs (SEN) pupils, compared with 67 per cent of teachers in England.
Simon Knight, director of education at the National Education Trust and a former deputy head in a special school, said planning for different abilities “didn’t come close” to the impact of written feedback on high teacher workloads.
“One of the things that would really support the workload issue is to have a little more flexibility in accountability. Diversity reflects the real world for children – and yet we want education to be delivered in a uniform way. It’s not about low expectations, it is about flexibility.”
Sellen said one solution would be to cut the number of TAs and employ more teachers.
“If there is a source of cash, it has to be our expenditure on teaching assistants. It’s so unusual, internationally, that we spend so much. The number of teachers has not significantly gone up, while teaching assistants have rocketed.”
But Jonathan Sharples, a senior researcher at the Education Endowment Foundation, said teachers reported lower stress levels when TAs were present.