Teachers in schools with several strategies for cracking down on workload are more likely to be happy in their role, new research into recruitment and retention strategies shows.
Jack Worth, workforce lead at the National Foundation for Educational Research, which undertook two of the studies, said the analysis highlights “actions school leaders can take to improve flexibility and reduce workload, but also highlights the importance of external drivers of teacher workload”.
Professor Becky Francis, chief executive of the EEF, added she hoped the research “sets us on the right path to understanding how we can make teaching an attractive, sustainable career path – one that empowers educators to make a real difference to children’s learning, particularly for our most vulnerable pupils”.
Here’s your trusty Schools Week round-up of what you need to know …
1. Managing workload leads to happier staff …
The first report was a review of current practice around managing teacher workloads based on an NFER survey of 1,326 teachers and school leaders.
Most schools had multiple workload management strategies in place, with over half of respondents reporting that they were using seven of nine identified tactics.
Providing time for planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) was the most commonly reported strategy (97 per cent). This was followed by access to existing schemes of work and associated lesson plans that can be adapted by teaching staff (91 per cent).
Teachers from schools with more strategies were more likely to say they had a manageable workload and were satisfied in their job.
But only 1 per cent of those surveyed said there were no barriers to reducing teacher workload.
The most common were funding and staff capacity (76 per cent of respondents), external accountability such as Ofsted (58 per cent), and lack of specialist support for specific pupil needs such as SEND (54 per cent).
2. … but more staff and better support services needed
In terms of how to quell the issue, more than four in five (85 per cent) respondents said increases to staffing and/or funding would help their school reduce workload.
It also found some disparities between those working in the least and most disadvantaged schools. For example, behaviour and pastoral care was more likely to be identified as a priority area to reduce workload in the most disadvantaged schools (55 per cent of respondents) compared with the least (38 per cent).
More than half (63 per cent) reported that more support from outside agencies for specific pupil needs would help, while 29 per cent said a central source of “high quality” curriculum materials to reduce their planning time.
The report notes that while Oak National Academy exists, the result could “perhaps indicate that central resources are not currently perceived to be of high enough quality”.
Researchers also point out that there was “clearly room for more uptake” of technology and software for administrative tasks for teachers, with only 61 per cent of respondents saying they were using this. Government has recently pledged up to £2 million for Oak to develop AI tools for teachers.
3. Flexible working: Slow progress, more evidence needed
In the second report, NFER did a rapid evidence assessment (REA) of research published between 2019 and April this year. The research body said there was “limited robust causal evidence” on the impact of flexible working on teacher recruitment and retention.
Researchers also analysed job adverts, the workforce census and interviewed leads from organisations and programmes supporting the practice in schools.
Census data showed “modest” increases in the proportion of teachers working part-time.
In 2010, 16.5 per cent of secondary teachers worked part-time compared with 19.4 per cent in 2022.
A random sample of 500 schools found 193 were currently advertising roles. But just 14 (three per cent) had a flexible working policy published on their website, while only a quarter (27 per cent) of the job adverts mentioned flexible working.
Its REA of 27 studies – quantitative, qualitative and longitudinal – found that previous research presented “perceptual evidence” that flexible working contributed positively to teacher outcomes.
This included by enhancing wellbeing and job satisfaction, attendance and teacher capacity, as well as improving career progression.
But there was also “perceptual” evidence presented from leaders that the strategy increased costs, and could have negative impacts on pupils “as a result of reduced consistency of teaching”.
While researchers suggested such challenges can be overcome with tactics including “attitudinal and cultural changes”, as well as creative timetabling, they make the case for more research to be conducted into the impact of flexible working.
This included a large-scale survey which could measure teacher recruitment and retention in relation to the extent of schools’ flexible working.
4. ‘Robust’ CPD for leaders needed to instil ‘positive climate’
For the third report, researchers at Durham and Warwick universities conducted an REA of 399 previous studies over the last 13 years that discussed school leadership, culture, climate or structure to support teacher retention.
It highlighted several “evidence-based practices” that leaders could employ to boost retention.
These included providing teachers with instructional support, offering professional development opportunities for teachers, cultivating leadership potential, demonstrating individual consideration for teachers, promoting collegiality in schools and developing a “positive climate” of school discipline.
But while academics said that such practices appeared to be “common sense”, they recommended that leaders be supported with a “robust” six to 12-month CPD programme.
This could help leaders to “contextualise” the implementation of such approaches in their school, address “competing” demands they face and “evaluate the effects” of them to “inform any necessary adjustments”.
The review also suggests piloting “creative workload configurations” in disadvantaged schools.
This could include considering reducing classroom time and offering more devoted time to lesson planning. Researchers suggest schools would “probably benefit” from a robust framework to guide them on the strategies.
The report also recommended longitudinal and experimental studies on the impact of school leadership practices on teacher retention.