Teacher workload is once again on the Government's radar. Damian Hinds, the Education Secretary, has promised that the Government will do its bit to tackle this problem, no doubt because of the difficulty of recruiting and then retaining teachers.
Teacher workloads are almost at crisis point, as revealed by Groupcall's groundbreaking research in 2017.
Any help in this area is to be welcomed, of course, but there is also much that schools, MATs and LAs can do themselves. A good starting point is to answer the following questions.
1. Is it easy for teachers and the senior leadership team to get the data they need?
This is partly a technical question: is the data in a place from which it can be accessed easily? Is it in a format that can be read?
It is also partly a question about rights and permissions: who is able to access which bits of the data?
Good practice, in terms of data protection as well as accessibility, suggests that the school's data should be located centrally, as opposed to floating around on individual hard drives or (shudder) USB sticks. Also, as far as rights and permissions are concerned, people should have access to data when there is a good reason to have that access, which suggests that not everyone needs to be able to see all the data.
The issue of rights and permissions also leads us on to the following question.
2. Is it easy to access relevant data?
There is such a thing as too much data, not least because it can lead to 'paralysis by analysis'. As a maths teacher, say, do I really want to have all the data pertaining to a child's performance in every subject? Or to put it another way, do I need that level of data by default?
That is to say, perhaps I need to know about a child's performance in other subjects if he or she seems to be doing badly in mine, especially if that has happened suddenly. In that case, knowing how the pupil is doing in other subjects will help me decide whether the problem is confined to maths or if something more going on. In other words, performance across the board could be a red flag.
3. Is it easy to filter the data?
This is, in effect, an expansion of the preceding question. Being presented with a spreadsheet with hundreds of rows and columns of data is not particularly helpful. Whatever form your school data appears in, it should be easy for the user to filter it. What that means is that they should be able to hide the bits that they don't need right now, in order to focus on the aspects they're most concerned with.
4. Is it easy to turn the data into information?
Ideally, teachers and SLTs should be presented with a dashboard that highlights aspects such as trends or 'outlier' data. It should also be possible to manipulate and rearrange the data in order to gain a different perspective and tease out hidden information.
5. Have processes been semi-automated?
Ideally, if a school has agree key performance indicators, the school's data package should flag up instances where a KPI is not being met. For example, suppose a KPI is 99% attendance. If a pupil's attendance falls below that threshold, the software should be proactive and 'tell' someone, such as the member of the SLT responsible, or at least displaying the information in such a way that it is easy for the SLT member to spot. Then that person can decide whether to monitor the situation, or send a text message to the pupil's parents.
6. Have templates been created?
Templates are a low-tech tool that punches above its weight. A template for the school newsletter, for instance, letters to parents, or even internal memos, saves you from having to start from scratch every time you wish to write something. A central repository of templates also means that all school or MAT documentation has a similar look and feel, which can help in building brand identity.
7. Have procedures been streamlined and documented?
There should be no need for any new teacher or SLT member to have to ask, "How do I go about doing x?", where 'X' is, for example, sending a letter out to parents. Having clear instructions of the steps to be followed, and made accessible by publishing them in the staff handbook, saves people from having to waste time trying to find out, and saves them the stress of worrying whether they have acted correctly.
If the Government can find ways of reducing teacher workload, that will be greeted with open arms. But there is much that schools and MATs can do to ensure that the work associated with administrative matters is reduced or made easier. Groupcall's tools such as Emerge and Analytics have been designed with ease-of-use in mind. If you don't already use them, take a look, and if you do already have them, take another look at their features to make sure you're getting the most out of them you can.