Teacher workload in schools-we need more time for teachers to prepare and mark effectively during the school day

Teacher workload in schools-we need more time for teachers to prepare and mark effectively during the school day

This post is designed to hopefully add to the debate surrounding teacher workload in England. As a HT in a large secondary school I am acutely aware of the issue of teacher workload and the impact that this has on every teacher in a school. In an educational environment of reduced funding to schools, a new national curriculum, new GCSEs and A Levels, assessment without levels and new accountability measures for secondary schools in England it is essential that school leaders try to reduce the burden of workload and pressure on teaching staff.

One of the biggest contributors to teacher workload is the ‘pressure’ of the timetable. If we take that a school has a 25 hour a week teaching timetable and that most mainscale teachers will teach 22 out of these 25 lessons, then it becomes very clear that teachers cannot plan, prepare and mark effectively within the timetabled school day. No teacher can do all of this in 3 hours a week. This means that the majority of planning, preparation and assessment takes place outside of the school day and, inevitably, this will be at home/at weekends/or during the holidays. This, in my opinion, is one of the fundamental issues relating to teacher workload. 10% of timetabled time is completely inadequate and one of the biggest issues leading to concerns over the ability for any teacher to effectively manage their workload. Teachers need to be given more time to plan, prepare and mark/assess within the school day. This, however, cannot be done at a school level without an increase in funding to schools.

In 2014, Nicky Morgan pledged to cut teacher workload: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-29427844 in the face of serious concerns from trade unions and colleagues up and down the country about the issues surrounding an increasingly unmanageable workload. After a series of pronouncements all we essentially got was this: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/unions-hit-back-nicky-morgans-delusional-workload-suggestions

Interesting that at no point is there any mention of reducing the contact time of teachers. If the Secretary of State for Education is absolutely serious about reducing teacher workload then this is where she should start.

Except she won’t.

She won’t, because to do this is going to cost a lot of money and this government is in the process of budgeting what the Institute for Fiscal Studies anticipate will be around an 8% reduction in real terms to school funding: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/schools-could-face-cuts-8-over-five-years-institute-fiscal-studies

In a recent blog, Ross Morrison McGill (@Teacher Toolkit) spoke of the need to give teachers more time to plan and mark: http://teachertoolkit.me/2015/04/22/if-i-were-secretary-of-state-for-education-by-teachertoolkit/ and I completely agree that this needs to happen. It will only happen, however, if there is significantly more money given to schools to allow this to happen.

If, for example, we were to move to a ratio of 20% PPA (double the current level that most schools operate at) then the financial impact on schools would be immense. If we take my school, we have just over 100 teaching staff, with an FTE of around 80 staff. If we were to give an additional 2 periods of PPA to each full time member of staff and an additional 1 period to part time staff, this would generate close to around 200 timetabled lessons that need to be covered. This means I would need at least an additional 10 teaching staff to cover these lessons. If we assume that each member of staff ‘costs’ around £30k (and this is a very conservative estimate) then the cost to my school would be an additional 300k per year (I won’t even go into where we would get all these staff in light of the teacher shortage at the moment). So if the government are serious about reducing teacher workload then this is what they need to do. Give schools more money to employ more teachers to decrease teacher contact time to ultimately improve the quality of earning that takes place in the classroom.

Call me cynical, but I am going to assume that this isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

School leaders therefore need to think about what they can do to try and act on the issue of workload on teachers. I should say that I am going to suggest a few things that I am trying/doing in my school. We haven’t got it right, indeed we are only just starting to look at this, so please don’t take the next section as a ‘look at how good we are’ type of post. We aren’t perfect but we are trying. Similarly, I will mention a couple of programmes/systems that we use. I am in no way endorsing these products but use them to give colleagues an example of the kind of things that you can do to help. Finally, there are a few books that have really helped my thinking on this issue and are well worth a read. These are mainly based about creating an organisational structure and culture that values staff but are really good reads: ‘The Way We Are Working Isn’t Working’ by Schwartz/Gomes, ‘Professional Capital’ by Hargreaves/Fullan and ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins.

Deal with behaviour as a whole school issue

I’ve blogged about this before, but ‘behaviour’ is another huge contributor to increased workload. Ensure that you have effective systems that support staff and that the ‘burden’ of dealing with those that do not do what is expected ultimately sits with middle and senior leaders.

Trust your teachers

Ultimately you have to trust your teaching staff to get on with it. They are professionals and you need to allow them to operate within a structure that lets them teach in a manner that is effective to them. If they are having issues-support them. Use lesson observations as professional development opportunities. Give them the chance to share good practice and observe each other. Don’t, under any circumstances, ask to see their lesson plans every week!!

Use technology to create flexibility in working patterns

Using web based programmes to input data/rewards detentions/set homework etc. really gives people a huge amount of flexibility as to how they can manage their time. You can also use web based programmes for setting homework (we use Show My Homework) that will really reduce workload in that they allow resources to be shared very easily within departments and you can also ‘reuse’ prepared homework.

Have a marking policy that is realistic

We introduced a new marking policy this year after a trial at the end of last year. The premise of the policy was that we started with what teachers thought was reasonable and then took it from there. We will be reviewing this with staff this term to see if we need to make any alterations.

Stop emails after a certain time

I do agree with Nicky Morgan on this one. When we get back after this holiday, I will be putting an ‘embargo’ on emails. I will be asking staff not to send emails to each other after 5pm. There will be emergencies and exceptions but, as a rule, there is nothing that needs to be done after 5pm that cannot wait until the next day. We will also be reinforcing to parents that there will be a 48 hour turnaround on all emails to staff. We have also disabled the ‘all staff’ email to reduce the amount of emails going around.

 Think before introducing any new initiative/policy

Start by saying, how will this impact a teacher who teaches 22 out of 25 lessons a week. If it increases their workload then you either have to stop them from doing something else they currently do or don’t introduce something new.

Do a workload/well-being survey and be genuine about changing practice based on feedback

We recently undertook a whole staff wellbeing survey. There are many out there but I have used this one on a few occasions:

They give you a complete analysis of your organisation based on how staff feel and give you detailed feedback on what you are doing well and what your organisation needs to improve on. I would urge leaders to do this as https://www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk/organisations/positive-workplace-survey  the results will help you become a better organisation.

Think about INSET days/meetings

Try and make sure that the majority of time on training days is spent in departments so that colleagues can work collaboratively on issues that are relevant to their subject or teaching and learning. This year we put a training day in on the last Friday of November. We worked 2 additional twilights in September/October in lieu of this day meaning that teachers didn’t have to come into work on this day. This gave everyone a bit of breathing space in the middle of the longest half term and was very well received. We’ll be doing it again next year.

Check the timetable-ensure there is equity

Make sure that there is a fair distribution of workload across departments/faculties. Look at sets/groups/exam classes and ensure that, wherever possible, everyone has a fair and balanced timetable.

Stick with ‘rarely cover’

Unless there is a real emergency, don’t expect teachers to cover lessons.

Try and do ‘little things’

Provide free tea and coffee for all staff at breaktime. Provide food for staff if there is a parent/open evening. Provide water, tea and coffee for staff during parent evenings. We also provide a flu jab every year for any member of staff who requests one. Try and let staff attend their children’s sports days/plays etc. It isn’t always possible but start on the basis that you will try and accommodate them.

These aren’t ‘major’ things and come nowhere near the positive impact that doubling the PPA ratio would have on reducing teacher workload, but I think they just make a difficult job a little bit easier.

Things will never fundamentally change, however, until teachers are given more time during the school day to plan, prepare and assess. And to do this we need more money for more teachers.






6 thoughts on “Teacher workload in schools-we need more time for teachers to prepare and mark effectively during the school day”

  1. “(I won’t even go into where we would get all these staff in light of the teacher shortage at the moment)”

    I think this may be the crux of the issue, Paul – even if more funding were made available, at the moment we don’t have the capacity to generate additional time for teachers during the school day if it means we need significantly more teachers. Ironic, though, isn’t it? If teachers were less pressured/stressed, we’d retain more and recruit better, which would help to address the teacher shortage issue. Chicken or egg, anyone?

    Thanks for the post, and for sharing some practical, constructive suggestions of what heads can do in their schools to make a start on addressing the teacher workload challenge. (I worry about heads’ and ML/SL workload too….)

    1. Hi Jill, if I’m being honest the post was written out of frustration at the end of last year. Frustration at the government giving, in my opinion, lip service to the issue of teacher workload. I appreciate we are in the middle of a teacher recruitment crisis (trust me, I know how difficult it is) but I do believe that reducing the contact time of teachers would be the single biggest factor in reducing the workload of teachers and, as a result, making us all better at what we do. Thanks for sharing the post on Twitter and your comments-very much appreciated. Paul

      1. Thanks, Paul – and I don’t disagree with you. I have this great vision of ALL teachers working four days a week – but pupils attending for five. I appreciate the logistical demands of it, how hard we would have to work to get communication right and to ensure things didn’t slip through the cracks, and how many more teachers it would require. But how much more sustainable would it be if we had that extra day of non-contact time and ensured we stayed at home (though we might be working). I even wonder whether many teachers would be happy to take a reduction in salary to buy themselves more time, and whether teaching would become a much more attractive proposition to those considering it. It would help with family flexibility too – for men as well as women. It might encourage those returning after maternity leave to work full-time rather than part-time, and tempt back into the profession some of the good teachers we’ve lost who were just defeated by the pace. I can see so many benefits – but am not naïve and recognise an unattainable dream when I see one!

  2. I agree with (almost) all of this wholeheartedly! We are getting into crisis point where we are working harder, with no release available from additional staff or funding. I really like the solutions to minimise the impact as well. The only one I worry about is the email curfew. As a mum who does drop offs and pick-ups a few times a week, emailing in the evening is the only time I can. I cannot do this inside the hectic pace of the day, so 8pm, 9pm is when it has to happen, or I would be under a significant amount more pressure in more role coordinating KS4 English. I tell people to turn off notifications if they don’t want to be bothered but I worry another ‘rule’ complicates things unnecessarily.

    1. Hi Kate, thanks for the comment. The email issue is one we ask staff to adhere to when emailing other staff as opposed to checking their own emails. If people want the flexibility of working at that time then this is great and we support this-we just ask that people don’t email other staff in the evening. We encourage staff to use the ‘delay’ button in Outlook or save it in drafts and send it when you get into work in the morning. The flexibility of technology (Romote Desktop, Foldr etc) is really important in helping staff be flexible with their working pattern if they want to be. Paul

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