Tag Archives: workload challenge

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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Monthly top 5 roundup – February 2015

Top five pages from the Internet, top five pages from this site and product of the month all in one convenient place.

The power of five

Top 5 pages from the Internet

1. New commission on primary assessment – After telling schools that they should work out for themselves how to assess pupils, now a commission is being set up to tell schools how they should assess.
2. The problem with lesson planning – David Didau on his blog, The Learning Spy, started the month looking at lesson planning.
3. The challenge for the DfE with workload – Michael Tidd takes a look at the government workload challenge and concludes, “At least we’re heading in the right direction.”
4. The expert in a year challenge – An illustration of the possibilities when targeted practice and growth mindset are brought together.
5. Resourceasourus.co.uk – This site gets a special mention. It looks new but sites like this are breaking with the tradition that teachers should share their work for free. It will be interesting to see if any school ever challenges on the basis of intellectual property rights. Until then, pop your teaching resources on here and receive payment each time they are downloaded.

Top 5 pages from this site

1. All the info. you need to know about teaching abroad – With over 4000 views, this collection of links to information about teaching abroad gets February’s top slot.
2. Two great ideas for displaying pupil targets
3. Teacher turnover and high performing school systems – Why is teacher turnover so low (3%) in high performing school systems?
4. Combating cyber bullying – A great free video resource for exploring cyber bullying with pupils.
5. Using a portfolio effectively on interview – What should be in an interview portfolio and how can you use it to secure your next education post?

Product of the month

This month we have been discussing display in school. We agreed a display policy and then spent time making sure that class displays were purposeful and focused on learning. We also had a staff meeting where we walked around the school and each teacher spent a couple of minutes talking about how they were using display in their own classrooms. A great resource for display ideas is the Belair series of books. The link below is for the general primary display book but there are others with ideas for specific curriculum areas.

Belair on display – The Essential Guide to Primary Display
by Noel Springett-McHugh

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Teacher turnover and high performing school systems

Teacher recruitment and retention is a real problem, not just in the UK but in other countries too. The USA for example reports 14% of teachers leaving after their first year and 46% after their fifth year. In the UK some reports say 50% have left within their first five years. So what can be done to recruit and retain quality teachers to our classrooms?

First of all, let’s debunk a myth. Teachers don’t leave the profession because of poor pay. Teachers discuss pay, walk on the streets carrying placards if pay rises run behind inflation, but they don’t leave the classroom because of pay. I’ve already discussed my belief that the solution to teacher recruitment and retention lies in managing teacher workload and removing some of the unnecessary external pressures caused by observation and grading. (Read my article “5 facts about reducing workload” for more information on this issue.)

So, the UK, the USA, and no doubt many other countries, have problems with recruitment and retention of teachers and yet Finland which regularly comes out on the top of comparative tables has only 3% of teachers leaving the profession in the first five years. Let’s assume that the 3% is indicative of people who either chose the wrong profession or for whatever reason were not right for the role. That means that for every 100 teachers the UK train, 3 don’t hit expectations and 47 leave for other reasons. So, if it isn’t pay, why do they leave?

Before we continue let’s debunk another myth. Finland appear to play PISA tests quite honestly. I have my opinions on Shanghai but Finland really seem to play by the book. Regardless of whether we think PISA a reliable way of judging an education system, Finnish students ace these tests.

So what is different between Finland, which has mastered recruiting and retaining teachers, and countries including the UK and USA that are struggling to get any value for money out of initial teacher training? Here is my ‘Top 5’ of how Finland succeeds in keeping the best teachers in classrooms.

1: Average student:teacher ratio is 1:12
I’ve read Hattie (Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning), I understand what EEF produces but without doing research or making observations, there is a difference here. This isn’t a promise of infant classes below 30, this is a ‘throughout education’ average of 12. As a mean that must also indicate many children are in classes smaller than 12. A parent wanting that teacher:pupil ratio in the UK is almost certainly going to have to choose an independent education.

2: 1 in 3 Finnish students receives some sort of special help in school
That seems an outstanding intervention rate. In a class of 12 then, there could be up to four pupils receiving an intervention. Again, we aren’t looking at infant or even primary education. This is an average across the education system.

3: Homework
Finnish students don’t start homework until into their teens. There has been substantial research to show that homework produces small or no benefits educationally and yet still parents in the UK and USA have expectations of homework. Children in Finland, according to one observer, are children. They return home and then go out to play with friends. They socialise, talk, enjoy quality family time and crucially, school doesn’t figure at home until they are approaching the only national standardised testing that takes place at 16 years old. No standardised testing until 16 years old and no homework until approaching the tests.

4: Playtime
Children in Finland have more minutes of playtime in their school day than almost anywhere else in Europe. An average of 75 minutes per day spent playing outside with friends. The tendency in the UK is to combat playtime problems by reducing the time spent on the playground and yet Finland seems to achieve better results by giving more playtime. Something we don’t quite understand is clearly at work here!

5: To teach in Finland requires a masters degree
And there it is. You can’t step in front of a class in Finland without a minimum of four years of degree study. No fast track, no returning heroes, no access courses for degree courses. Four years minimum of academic study and practice before you can take a class. Consequently, teaching is still a profession with public confidence. Doctors, lawyers and teachers are seen as a similar status.

So, what can we learn?
My five point system for improving teacher recruitment and retention without discussing workload is:

1: Remove all fast track to the classroom schemes. One year hops into the classroom are damaging our education system. Access alternatives for courses that negate the need for an academic study are muddying the waters. If you haven’t got an English and Maths GCSE then you need to study for one. Remove the ‘equivalent’ courses that universities run to enable late entrants in to teaching.

2: Allow playtime. Allow it outside at playtime and allow it in the classroom, especially in the early years. Teachers know how to create learning opportunities through play. Remove the teaching by numbers systems of an overly controlling central curriculum and judge teachers not on their delivery of national strategy but on the learning taking place in their classrooms.

3: Stop wasting time on testing and homework. All the research says it doesn’t help attainment. It is only in the system to check up on teachers. We are only checking up on teachers because there is a lack of trust in their work.

4: Provide more interventions when they are needed. When I taught in the UK we had two educational psychologist visits per year and no diagnosis could be made without their advice. Support therefore was delivered by the least qualified staff as pupils were in effect excluded from class for support. Make trained teachers responsible for interventions. Trained teachers in school just to intervene when a child has learning problems and to do so on the back of an extensive academic study of how to help that child.

5: Pupil:teacher ratio
Does it matter? Well, sorry to say this Mr Miliband but reducing infant classes (which are already capped at 30) to 30 is a shameless piece of election headline grabbing. If you promised class sizes averaging 12 pupils from pre-school to 18 years old…now that would be a headline!

One final point regarding what high performing school systems can teach us about teacher recruitment and retention.
Cultural difference are never measured but they really matter. Finnish culture is family focused. Something that is missing from UK and USA cultures. Maternity and paternity leave exceed that given in the UK and the USA. Pupils arrive at school having had breakfast with a parent. They come home to a parent and have time to play with friends.

What can Finland teach us about teacher recruitment and retention? It teaches us that if there is a strong family cohesion then children are more likely to achieve at school. If we erode family and leave pupils to be raised by their schools then we may struggle to compete.

Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? (The Series on School Reform)

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