Reduce teacher workload – the answer is simple

I’ve already written about reducing teacher workload but having spent ten hours interviewing teachers yesterday I think reducing teacher workload might be even more simple than we think.

Yesterday I had the privilege to speak with ten teachers from all over the UK. It was a fascinating window into a diverse group of classrooms. It included a small school in rural Scotland where the teacher works with a class of children spread over the year groups from Reception to Year 3 right through to a teacher working in a six form entry school in London.

At the end of February Schoolsweek published an article “Reduce teacher workload the answer is simple“. The solution they proposed, I assume with a tongue in cheek, was to cut time in classroom to a third. Having spoken with teachers from across the UK I would say that the answer to teacher workload is actually simple.

Teachers now are far more involved in data management than ever before. I remember a non-teaching deputy headteacher in a school I worked in having responsibility for data management. He crunched numbers for us and spotted trends. His job was in part to analyse numbers and to suggest ways to improve the education we provided based on the outcomes. We submitted sub-divided levels each term and occasionally he might have asked for additional information, for example, the names of children in ability groups. The point is, that responsibility was taken away from teachers in the classroom. Now, it seems every teacher is an expert in data.

In interviews we saw charts, graphs, spread sheet analysis and a whole host of pretty infographics. I’m assuming that when primary teachers are telling us that PPA is around two and a half hours per week (in one case given as an end of the day time from 3-3.30pm) then most of this number crunching must be taking place in teacher’s own time. I also saw planning sometimes in incredible detail. One candidate showed us a page of A4 per lesson taught. Another, a sheet of A4 per week accompanied by five sides of A4 for one lesson if the management team were observing.

The answer to reducing teacher workload is simple. Teacher’s should be paid to teach. They should be in front of children as much as possible and teaching. We shouldn’t be taking teachers away from their classes unnecessarily. Whether a task is necessary is very simple to decide. Does it immediately affect the teaching and learning? Obviously planning is important and there should be advice as to the minimum needed for a plan to be effective. There shouldn’t be a need for a different plan for an observation. Why are we paying a teachers salary for data entry and simple report production? We could get an administrator on less than half of a teacher’s salary to do that for everybody. What about classroom display? I have seen some awesome examples of display that must have taken teachers many hours to prepare. Again, is it really necessary to be paying your UPS 2 teacher with a TLR for phase leadership to pin items to boards for hours? More effective surely to ask teachers to sketch out what they want and use an assistant for this work.

So, the simple answer to reducing teacher workload is this:
Get teachers back in the classroom and teaching.

Ask the following questions:
1 – What is the minimum needed on a teacher’s plan for it to be effective?
2 – What data does each teacher need to do their job effectively and who is going to prepare that data for the teacher?
3 – Who puts up classroom displays?
Do teachers mount the work, laminate it and put up the backing paper? Take this job away from teachers and ask teachers just to submit a quick sketch of what they want to a teaching assistant.
4 – What can be taken out of the staff meetings and passed on an email or an internal message?
What is left in the staff meeting should ideally only be agenda items that will have a direct impact on learning.
5 – Who produces the data that evidences teachers are effective in the classroom.
Management need to take responsibility for providing an agreed minimum amount of data that evidences the fact that teachers in their school are working effectively. Teachers should not have to spend hours producing data that defends their own existence.

Finally, if you are involved in education at any level question everything with reference to impact on learning. Assistants, teachers, managers, head teachers and even local authority representatives need to question more. The question is always the same, “What impact will this have on standards of learning?”. Anything that puts pressure on teachers to justify what they are doing is distracting them from the job they are being paid to do, teach. Anything that requires them to produce evidence for other bodies is distracting them from their core purpose. Everybody working in education has a duty to protect teacher time to be directed at the job they are being paid to do, teach.

The managing workload pocketbook (Teacher’s pocketbooks)
by Will Thomas

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