Thursday, 23 October 2014

Teachers' Workload?

This is the latest (to quote Alan Partridge, or at least his radio jingle)...Hot...Topic...doing the rounds. New-ish Education Secretary Nicky Morgan (I expect she'll stop being called 'new' when she actually does something) is keen to hear from teachers for practical ways to reduce their workload, thereby increasing their workload in the process. Far be it for me to suggest that all this talk of workload has something to to with next year's election, but the two major parties do suddenly seem to have become the parties of care. Whether a workload is light, heavy or excessive is very much in the eye of the worker, and I have worked in day Schools and boarding Schools, single-sex and mixed Schools, City Schools and rural Schools and I can say with some certainty that the definition of hard work varies wildly from teacher to teacher. People vary in levels of efficiency and capacity and to talk about 'teacher workloads' as a catch-all term makes no sense. I have worked in the same School with people who worked extraordinarily hard and didn't seem to bat an eyelid and others who did precious little but still found time to moan (the sort of people who don't actually say hello in the corridor, but raise their eyes just a little as they pass you, just to let you know that the weight of some globe or other is still fixed to their shoulders).

Managing workload is a collective responsibility, jointly held by the individual and the School's management. It seems reasonable to expect that teachers will work long hours during term time. The job affords around 3 to 4 times as much holiday time as other professions and the job security could be said to offset the relatively meagre financial rewards. It is sensible to start with an expectation that days will be long during term time, whilst remembering that you're rarely more than six weeks or so from at least one week off. I don't know if teachers feel that they have a monopoly onlong days and hard work, but I don't remember many of my friends who worked in the City coming home on the 5pm train. They may have earned far more than I did, but they sold their souls in the process!

But lest this blog become a 'back in your box' message for teachers, here's some ideas about how the individual and School management can come together to make life easier (or at least more effective):


This should not inform all that you do. This should not hang like a Damoclean sword above your head. You should rarely (if ever) ask yourself whether Ofsted like this. You should never get in trainers who talk about what Ofsted like. Inspections happen once every few years or so and you will teach several thousand lessons in between ones that are observed during inspection.  Concentrate on these lessons, do things that you find work, the things that allow the pupils to learn things. Ofsted don't know your pupils, you do, and you should have the courage to teach the best way that you can, not with some manual in the background. Being in charge, feeling empowered to teach the best way that you can is a pretty good feeling.


It's really important, but it's not *that* important. You can set work that takes 3 hours to mark and the pupils won't have learned any more than if it took sub-1 hour. Don't be a martyr. Multiple choice questions are great for many subjects and can be marked quickly. Occasionally (very occasionally) pupil marking is fine. Pupils need time to read; give them that time. Give good feedback, but make sure that the time you spend marking isn't so excessive that that feedback gets lost in a mass of ticks, crosses and marks out of 300.


This is really important too, but it has to be worthwhile. Anodyne reports that say very little are often worse than no reports at all. Move away from an 'end of term' model where teachers need to mark exams and then write 150 reports. They will end up sounding generic. Stagger your reporting throughout the year so that teachers only have to write a maximum of half that number each session. 'No-one grew taller by being measured more often' is certainly true, but make sure you space out your sessions appropriately. Too often and people are writing reports almost every week, not often enough and you'll drop the baby. Not all reports need to be sent home; try short, pithy (and honest) internal comments on pupils.

Data generation

The data that you generate should be valid, understandable and must lead to worthwhile things happening. Being able to praise colleagues where the raw data doesn't show anything special is important, likewise being able to support colleagues who are struggling. Setting appropriate targets for individual pupils, being able to treat pupils as individuals, not as merely a part of a top or bottom set - data can help with this. Make it someone's job to produce and present the data - teachers then only need to read it to help their understanding of the pupils they teach. Don't use data to beat people - use it to support and enhance professional judgement.

Activities, worksheets and powerpoints

These can take ages. Make sure that any time you spend designing activities or producing worksheets is worth it. A fantastic lesson is not characterised by the number of different activities you have going on. Starters, Post-Its, white-boards, plenaries might all be useful at certain times, but you don't need them every lesson! especially if planning time is tight. Too many teaching strategies these days seem to be less about teaching and more about engaging the reluctant learner. If your delivery is dynamic, if you're the most interesting thing in the classroom and if you can transmit enthusiasm for your subject, you won't have reluctant learners. If you ever hear yourself say that you need to create a ppt for every lesson because then you've got them forever, the profession just might not be for you.

It's supposed to be enjoyable

Most teachers will be delivering the subject in which they have a degree, certainly in the world of secondary School teaching. This was the subject for which you rejected all others. This is the subject you may have studied for nigh on 15 years at School, then at university. You may even have a doctorate. You now get to communicate all that knowledge and enthusiasm to a captive (for some of the time) audience. When I'm making gunpowder, synthesising paracetamol, extracting capsaicin or eugenol or just live-following the announcement of the Nobel prize in chemistry, I feel this is the best job in the world, and no amount of paperwork, books to mark, stroppy parents or Saturday night pub duties will disabuse me of this fact. And then I get to coach football in the afternoon. What's not to love? 

Workload? If it all feels like work, I think you're missing the point.