How can teacher workload be reduced? Ideas wanted please

Janet Downs's picture
It’s over a decade since I left teaching on early retirement – I was burnt out. I was tired of arriving at work before 7.30am, tired of working at least an hour in school after pupils had left and then a further three hours at home, tired of working all day Sunday and through most of the ‘holidays’.

Was I particularly bad at organising my time? No. It was because teaching isn’t just being in front of the class – although that’s the most important aspect. Because being an effective teacher requires:

1Planning schemes of work and individual lessons;
2Preparing teaching material;
3Matching curricula to exam syllabuses (these changed so rapidly they needed to be redone every couple of years – no time for evaluation, just chuck what you’ve already planned into the bin);
4Marking work, adding comments, and using assessment to plan future lessons;
5Meeting other teachers: formally (staff meetings) and informally (over coffee in staff rooms – but these essential spaces are viewed as superfluous in some new academies);
6Continued professional development;
7Writing reports;
8Meeting parents (not just at Parents’ Evening but when particular children are causing concern).

Added to these are pastoral responsibilities (investigating bullying, keeping an eye on vulnerable children; mentoring those needing support), practical problems (ensuring sufficient materials are in place at the right time; booking equipment so you’ve got the TV and recorder to show Year 10 the next instalment of Macbeth; letting the technician – if you’ve got one – know the computer’s not working) and personal necessities (balancing the need to keep pupils behind to discuss missing homework with a desperate desire to get to the loo).

And now it’s got worse. At least my marking was done in a book for my reference only. Now I hear of teachers having to input marks into spreadsheets, link these to Levels, and check something called RaiseOnline. And I was under no pressure to get my Set 4 pupils up to GCSE Grade C. Neither did I have to cope with changes of employer when my school became an academy (it’s now changed to another academy chain which would have meant three different employers in the last four years: local authority, Chain One and Chain Two).

It was with some relief, then, that Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, in a speech heavy with soundbites and dodgy stats, announced she would take steps (as yet undefined) to reduce teacher workload.

Is Morgan’s promise just a vague pledge made in the last Conference before an election? Or is she really serious? If she is, then she’ll need some suggestions about how best to reduce teacher workload and teacher burn-out. I’m out-of-touch with teaching today so if there are any teachers, governors and parents (no-one wants their children taught by exhausted teachers) with practical suggestions, then please comment.

CORRECTION The grammatical howler in the last paragraph (...if they're any...) has been corrected. No excuses - sloppy proof reading.

ADDENDUM 11.17am I forgot some things in the list above: extra curricular activities during lunchtime and after school, including weekends and during holidays.
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Michele -Lowe's picture
Thu, 02/10/2014 - 15:10

I think her statements are a vague pledge, to be frank. From all I have seen working as a classroom assistant, now working as a volunteer reading helper and as a parent with kids who have been moving through the system for the past 12 years, I think some stability is in order. The number of initiatives which descends on schools is silly. They swallow up time and energy and sap teachers' will to live.
I noticed in early years initiatives which shifted parental obligations onto staff. The one which sticks in my mind was the teeth-brushing initiative. A Welsh Assembly initiative. I was glad to be moving out of early years education when that came in. We only had two sinks in the toilets and 24 kids per session. You could spend half the morning getting through them all. But not to worry: the 3-4 year olds will brush with their labelled brushes and swallow the toothpaste! Not a habit I'd like my kids to have developed, I must say.
So to me, the first thing a Secretary of State could do is stop issuing initiatives in a bid to convince the public they are doing something about 'the awful state education system'. Actually, it would be heartening to hear a Secretary of State for Education say something nice about it for a change.

Kathy McCall's picture
Fri, 03/10/2014 - 18:46

In no particular order:

Marking. Currently unsustainable, will get even worse.

OFSTED, league tables, plethora of ridiculous and meaningless statistics e.g. KS2 "results", FFT index, GCSE "results", PISA etc.

Endemic bullying.

Academies. Either the horror of working in one or the despair that all schools soon, despite all the evidence, will become academies.

Jane Eades's picture
Wed, 08/10/2014 - 10:44

I would add:
informal support of colleagues
discipline (detentions or otherwise)
letters home - praise or problem

Jessica Green's picture
Sun, 05/10/2014 - 11:57

Personally, there would be two key areas that would make an enormous difference to workload in my subject area (Secondary English):

1: An end to the constant tampering with the curriculum and specifications for KS4. I am in my sixth year of teaching and the most recent change is the third I have had to deal with. As soon as we feel we have a grasp on what students are expected to do (and feel confident that all the leaning taking place in our classrooms is tailored to that spec), everything changes.

2: Everyone I know has banged on about this for years: smaller class sizes and more PPA time. At least one per day. This would have to remain protected so we can tackle as many of the issues that need dealing with on a day-to-day basis there and then. For example, the behaviour issue that took my entire PPA session this Friday, during which time I had planned to spend marking. This spilled over so that I've spent most of Saturday marking as well as Sunday because In my wonderful year 11 class there are 35 students. They are all aiming for B/A/A* so just marking a simple homework task for the whole group takes five hours. Ideally, I'd like to give these back to the them the same week, but with books to mark for five other groups and the expectation that they are ALL marked every 2/3 weeks, including other assessments, this is not always possible. All this on top of planning lessons, date input, negotiating behaviour management systems and everything else mentioned in your original post: any 'frees' you get are just eaten away. Oh, and did I mention that I am on a 'part time' contract? Somehow my three days work out at at least 40 hours. These solutions would make some headway into solving this.

Jill Berry's picture
Tue, 07/10/2014 - 11:20

Thanks, Janet.

Like you, I no longer teach - I had 30 years without a break from full-time teaching and finished in 2010 after ten years as a head. I loved my career, despite the hard work and pressures, but, for me, 30 years was enough! I now have a better balance in my life and am healthier, I think - though I still recommend teaching and, especially, headship, to anyone who will listen. I absolutely accept all that you and the commentators above say about workload and pressure, but teaching also gives you the opportunity to make a difference to people's lives to an extent that many jobs don't.

I just wanted to say something positive about teachers and school leaders at all levels managing their workload today, and it's to do with the fact that there is far more sharing of ideas/resources/advice than was the case in the first decade or two of my teaching career. Twitter, and spin-off events like #TeachMeets, have provided a very powerful forum for sharing and supporting each other. I know technology can create its own pressures and demands (especially, as you say, when it lets you down!) but it also brings great opportunities for professional networking, reflection, mutual encouragement and shared practical advice.

Anyone reading this might like to look at @martynreah's #sharingiscaring collection of guest posts as an example:

Thanks again for your post.

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