Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Workload - let's turn politicians' promises into real gains

"Too many of you are still struggling under the burden of an unnecessary and unsustainable workload. We want to work with you, and the whole of the teaching profession, to see what we can do to reduce this burden – to offer you a new deal" Nicky Morgan

"If we want to keep our talent in the classroom, we need to nail the workload issue – before too many teachers think their calling is just not worth the candle" Tristram Hunt

"Talk to a teacher and they'll tell you about their working week of 50 hours or more" Nick Clegg

Politicians are suddenly acknowledging the reality of teacher workload! Yes, of course, there is a General Election in their minds and they are after teacher votes. They are also worried about the damaging effects of teacher turnover. But what's clear is that politicians are having to respond to the pressure built up by the campaigning and strike action taken by the NUT.

It's good to celebrate when our campaigns start to have an effect - but it's also now vital that we make the most of this opportunity and make sure politicians turn words into actions that will genuinely limit workload. 

Our campaigns on pensions and pay failed to stop damaging legislation being imposed - and the pressure from imposed performance-pay targets are now, as we warned, further driving up stress and workload. This time, we have to succeed.

We can't make do just with limited gains such as Ofsted's 'myth-busting' document. As I posted previously in, "Ofsted and Nicky Morgan have chosen their words carefully. Morgan's commitments still fall far short of what is really required to really reduce teacher workload".  

Yes, we have to make the most of Nicky Morgan's latest 'Workload Challenge' Survey - and teachers are already responding in their thousands via If you haven't done already, then give your answers - but teachers need to be firm in their responses - and the NUT even more so! The Union response has to include a clear threat of ongoing strike action in the New Year.

In her TES Opinion piece,, Morgan writes "We now need your help to tackle this problem so that teachers can focus on what matters most – planning and teaching great lessons for children. By cutting back on unproductive, unnecessary workload, we want all teachers to have time and freedom to do what you do best – teach".

The problem with that approach, backed up by Question 8 about "unnecessary and unproductive tasks", is that, while the really pointless activities imposed by some schools are part of the problem, it's still the teaching tasks - planning, marking and preparation that fill most of the additional hours.

A 'workload deal' that just comes up with suggestions for good practice, perhaps including dubious 'IT solutions', without legislating to address the real issues, will be no 'deal' at all. That's why Question 10 in the Workload Challenge Survey is key: "What do you think should be done to tackle unnecessary workload - by government, by schools or by others ?"

Teachers will already be providing their answers. But here's a few suggestions:
  • The constant pressure to reach increased targets - targets that take no account of the increasing needs of children and families living in increasing poverty - has to stop. That means 'austerity' has to stop too!
  • Those targets and pressure are driven by Ofsted, league tables, performance-pay and the threat of academisation - they have to go - all of them!
  • As the NUT workload guidance suggests, initiatives and practices that are not 'workload-impact assessed' have to be rejected. As the NUT's own workload survey showed, top of the list for such unsustainable practices at present are marking policies. These, and any other policies, should only be allowed if they take account of the time available for teachers to carry them out.
  • Of course, that focuses on the key point. For too long, teachers have worked with open-ended contracts that set no limit on our working hours outside the school day. That's why we need to demand a National Contract that legislates for an overall limit on teachers' working hours, and for a minimum 20% PPA time so that we have adequate time to mark and prepare lessons within the working day.
  • ... and as a postscript, from feedback on this post, what about class sizes?

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