Sunday 26 February 2017

Workload: Everyone agrees it has to be cut, so take action to make it happen!

"All school leaders should promote a culture of wellbeing in their schools, which will include taking greater account of teacher workload. This could include implementing the recommendations of the workload challenge or ‘capping’ the number of hours teachers work outside of teaching time".  
(House of Commons Education Committee, February 2017)

"Don’t spend time on marking that doesn’t have a commensurate impact on pupil progress. Simple message: stop it!"
(DfE Poster on Reducing Teacher Workload, February 2017)

"All of those taking part in the survey were asked to state to what extent, if at all, they consider teacher workload to be a serious problem in their school. 93% stated it was a problem" 
(DfE Teacher Workload Survey 2016, released February 2017)

There can be no further delay in cutting teacher workload

February 2017 has seen a flurry of new evidence about the realities of teacher workload and the damage that it is causing to both staff well-being and education as a whole. They remove any remaining excuses from any Ministers or school managers that might still want to ignore the problem. There can be no further delay in cutting teacher workload.

Of course, teachers won't have needed to read any of these new reports to know the extent of the problem. Many may also be understandably suspicious, based on bitter experience, that these reports will just gather dust and everything will remain as before. That must not be allowed to happen.

The people that can make sure that action is taken to cut workload are teachers themselves - through taking collective action with the backing of the NUT and other teaching unions.

DfE Teacher Workload Survey

The DfE have just released the results of the 2016 workload survey, a detailed analysis of the responses of a weighted sample of over 3000 teachers to questions about their views and working hours in March 2016.

It confirms, amongst other findings, that on average, classroom teachers report working 54.4 hours a week. Those averages were slightly higher for primary teachers compared to secondary colleagues, although secondary school senior leaders reported some of the longest working hours of all.

Roughly a third of those hours - 17 hours on average - were spent working at weekends, evenings or other out-of-school hours. Most teachers complained that the time being spent on marking and planning or preparing lessons was too much:

Not surprisingly, the vast majority (93%) of respondents also reported that workload is a serious problem, and over half described it as a VERY serious problem:

Comparisons between different workload surveys can be statistically difficult because of the different methods used but the hours reported are certainly greater than those that were reported for English secondary teachers in a TALIS report for the OECD looking at international data from 2013.

As the DfE Report makes clear "total recorded teaching hours in the reference week for all secondary classroom teachers and middle leaders in this survey was 53.5 hours per week. This is markedly higher than the 45.9 hours per week recorded in TALIS in 2013 (OECD, 2014). Whilst there remain differences in the survey audience, administration and design, the size of this difference between broadly comparative questions suggests some increase in workload has been seen between 2013 and 2016". 

In other words, despite all the promises, workload is getting worse. It's time to act on the promises and cut workload! 

DfE Poster on Reducing Teacher Workload

In an effort to show that they are listening to the complaints of teachers, the DfE have just released a poster and pamphlet on teacher workload summarising the advice of Ofsted and the findings of their three Workload Review Groups. All the teacher unions are supporting the poster too.

They certainly provide a useful - and officially backed - summary of some of the findings that the NUT has already been trying to publicise. Teachers and their school union reps certainly need to be using this as an opportunity to make sure that teacher workload is on the agenda of their staff meetings and Governors' meetings - and that firm recommendations are put in place on how workload is going to be reduced in their school.

Some of the points worth highlighting in the poster include:

  • "Don't spend time on marking that doesn’t have a commensurate impact on pupil progress. Simple message: stop it!"
  • "Don't give marking a disproportionate value in relation to other types of feedback. There is no theoretical underpinning to support ‘deep marking’"
  • "Be aware of workload issues: consider not just how long it will take, but whether that time could be better spent on other tasks".
It's worth going back to the original Teacher Workload Review Group Reports for some even more strongly worded conclusions, including:
  • On Data: "Summative data should not normally be collected more than three times a year per pupil"
  • On Marking: "Teachers forced to mark work late at night and at weekends are unlikely to operate effectively in the classroom" 
  • On Planning: "Burnt-out teachers are not best for pupils" and "Detailed daily or weekly plans should not be a routine expectation"
A video from NUT GS Kevin Courtney urging teachers to make use of the new poster can be donwnloaded here. 

House of Commons Education Committee Report

Perhaps the most supportive recommendations of all have come in a Report recently produced by the cross-party House of Commons Education Committee into the 'Recruitment and Retention of Teachers'.

The Report is a damning indictment of the failure of every Tory Education Secretary to do what they were, supposedly, elected to do and plan for adequate teacher supply. 

Some of its key findings are:
  • The Government has missed recruitment targets for the last five years, and in 2016/17 the number of graduates starting initial teacher training fell.
  • Rising pupil numbers and changes to school accountability, including the Government’s focus on subjects within the EBacc, will exacerbate existing problems, increasing demand for teachers in subjects experiencing shortages.
  • Government intervention currently focuses almost entirely on improving recruitment of teachers ... Introducing initiatives to help improve teachers’ job satisfaction may well be a much more cost effective way of improving teacher supply in the long term.
  • The Government must do more to encourage schools to implement the recommendations of the workload challenge. Ofsted must do more to dispel any misunderstandings of its requirements and promote good practice by monitoring workload in its school inspections. 
An inspection that monitored teacher workload might well help in schools where the management culture is one that claims that excessive hours are an 'essential requirement for a good school'. However, perhaps the key recommendation is the following:
  •  All school leaders should promote a culture of wellbeing in their schools, which will include taking greater account of teacher workload. This could include implementing the recommendations of the workload challenge or ‘capping’ the number of hours teachers work outside of teaching time.
Firstly, yes, teacher workload is indeed about promoting wellbeing and work-life balance. These are legal responsibilities that too many school managements seem to forget. But, secondly, this House of Commons backed recommendation recognises what the most far-sighted employers - like those in Nottingham who gave evidence to the Committee - are recognising. Teacher workload won't be decisively lowered unless clear limits are placed on the hours teachers are expected to work outside school hours.

As I have explained in more detail in a separate post, the Workload Charter negotiated between employers and unions in Nottingham states that “the workload requirements of all policies should be reasonably deliverable within an additional maximum two hour period". This works out at roughly an 8am to 5pm working day. That's still a hard working day in a school environment but, especially if it comes with a solid guarantee of no weekend work, this would be a huge gain for teachers - and would also stop the exhaustion and burnout which has been blighting education for too long.

But funding cuts threaten to make things worse

Unfortunately, while some parts of Government seem to be belatedly recognising that action has to be taken on workload, Tory austerity policies threaten to make the workload problem even greater in cash-starved schools. 

With the National Audit Office confirming that school budgets are going to be £3billion down in real terms by 2020 then, unless the Government reverses its education spending cuts, most schools will be forced to cut teaching and support staff posts. That will only make workload - and education - worse as class sizes rise and non-contact time for marking and planning lessons in the school day is squeezed even further.

A small example of that has already been shown in the cuts proposals being made at Forest Hill School in Lewisham, where Governors are struggling to slash a budget deficit. The proposals include an increase in timetable loadings for a classroom teacher from 77% to 88%, meaning that teachers would only have 3 'free periods' a week to mark, plan and prepare for all of their classes. Instead of making workload better as all the latest reports are recommending, schools faced with cuts may feel forced into making workload worse.

Small wonder that the NUT group at the school has just won a formal ballot to take strike action to oppose both redundancies and the workload increases threatened from this restructuring.

Take action to make sure policy becomes practice

Forest Hill is just one school where NUT members are recognising that collective action is the best guarantee that employers will put all of these well-written workload recommendations into actual concrete practice.
Just recently, NUT members in the London Region including at schools in Croydon, Lewisham and Waltham Forest have all recently achieved workload gains through pursuing collective action through the NUT. 

Nationally, the NUT is encouraging school groups to use the recommendations of the various reports above, together with the examples of successful negotiations, like those in Nottingham, to open up negotiations on workload with their management. That could be at a school level and/or at an employer-wide level, perhaps through the Local Authority or Academy-chain leadership.

A determined approach to negotiations, backed up by all the latest evidence and national recommendations should bring results. After all, any sensible management should take heed of the many urgent reasons that union reps can present for addressing teacher workload. However, too many will also be feeling the pressure of the ongoing accountability regime and could too easily continue to drive their teachers into working excessive hours, supposedly to improve performance. 

As the House of Commons Report has spelt out, that kind of short-sighted thinking is leading to long-term disaster in terms of teacher supply. More immediately, it is ruining the lives of thousands of teachers and their families, and damaging education for the children they teach as well. 

Teachers' working conditions are children's learning conditions. If it needs action to improve them, then that action needs to be taken!