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Teacher workload: the DfE gets serious

by Terry Freedman on July 26, 2018

When Damian Hinds, the Secretary of State for Education, announced in March 2018 that he was going to do something about teacher workload, the diehard cynics amongst us could have been forgiven for thinking, “Yeah, right!” But, credit where credit is due: his summer holiday present to teachers was the launch of a Workload Reduction Kit. This could not be more timely, given the teacher recruitment and retention challenges we are facing in this country, due in large part by teacher workload issues, as we reported in How the country sees teachers and their workloads.

The toolkit comprises three main sections:

  • Identifying the workload issues in your school.
  • Addressing the workload issues.
  • Evaluating the impact of reducing workload.

The first section consists of two activities which would make a good starting point for the new school year in September. The first part takes the form of a survey in which teachers are asked to identify the tasks that are creating the most workload for them. This is something that could be done on the first training day.

The second component is a guide to running a workshop to discuss the survey findings.

If this isn’t to become more grist to the mill to the staffroom cynics, clearly the school’s senior leadership team needs to do more than just facilitate a talking shop: it needs to act.

Fortunately, the second part of the toolkit helps the school to focus on individual areas. What will no doubt be of particular interest to readers of this blog and users of Groupcall’s products, are the sections on data collection and communication.

Taking data collection first, the SLT is prompted to answer the question why data is collected in the first place. If it has already been collected, then why does it need to be collected or entered again? This is what we described as the WORM principle -- Write Once, Read Many -- in the article Reducing Teacher Workload back in February 2017.

The SLT is also asked to consider impact: if a particular set of data has no or little bearing on pupil outcomes, then why collect it (which is a question which schools should be asking anyway in the age of GDPR)? It’s also worth considering that timing plays a part too: some data may be useless if not acted upon in time to make decisions with it. See the article Get your statistics as soon as possible for more on this.

The communications part of the toolkit is very good. It requires the school to look at how it communicates both internally and with others, such as parents. It suggests developing a communications protocol. Again, impact is a key consideration.

The example protocol also suggests what to tell parents. This is crucial, since teachers report anecdotally that many parents seem to take the view that they should be on call 24/7 -- there have even been cases of a parent cornering a teacher in a supermarket on a Saturday morning to discuss their child’s work.

For example, one section of the protocol of parents says:

“Teachers are not in a position to check emails consistently throughout the day and the school does not expect work email to be checked during a teacher’s personal time.”

A simple statement that, in effect, allows teachers to not check their school email messages after school or at weekends.

There is a lot more to this toolkit, which ties in well with the myths that Ofsted have been spending several years trying to erase -- see Ofsted inspection myths.

Finally, there are case studies of schools which have successfully reduced teacher workload in different areas.

In a way, it’s a shame the toolkit came out right at the end of term: it’s not exactly summer holiday reading you’d want to take on the beach. Also, it doesn’t say very much that hasn’t been said before. Nevertheless, it’s a good resource, and one that is both readable and easy to act upon right away, as you can easily use or tweak the resources provided. Doing so would make a great start to the new term.