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Teacher workload improving – but there’s still a way to go


Diana Whistance-Smith, SSAT content executive, considers the minor improvement in teacher workload revealed by the latest DfE survey, and what still needs to be done

The Department for Education has released its Teacher workload survey 2019, finding that despite the odds, teacher workload is actually improving.

Teachers, middle and senior leaders were first surveyed by the DfE in 2016, which provided the baseline for the improved results seen now. According to the survey report, the main points of interest include:
– teachers work fewer hours overall
– teachers are spending less time on tasks outside the classroom, like marking and lesson planning
– teachers spend less time working in the evenings and at weekend.

While teachers and middle leaders continue to put in an average of 49.5 hours per week into their profession, this is a reduction from 2016. However, this number remains much higher than that of other countries.

So there is still much work to be done in reducing teacher workload, and the powerful debate on the topic at SSAT’s National Conference in 2018 is still highly relevant. The debate, chaired by Cath Murray, commissioning editor of Schools Week, focused on the effects of teachers’ workload and measures taken to reduce workload-induced stress. According to one panellist, Jack Worth, lead economist of the National Foundation for Educational Research, workload is “the number one reason ex-teachers give for having left the profession.”. He concluded that teacher retention requires workload to be at the “top of the agenda”, which justifies the focus of the DfE 2019 survey.

Ways to reduce workload

Panellists suggested the wider use of stress-reducing aspects to be taking the initiative in preparing for lessons and inspection, school leaders aiding other staff who may have limited time or resources, and leaders implementing better management of time-consuming tasks like marking.

As the National Education Union (NUT), stated at the time, “An exhausted, dispirited teacher is not what children or parents want or deserve.” So, what steps are now being taken to alleviate workload stress?

The DfE’s recent Teacher Bulletin highlighted new resources created for teachers, including an updated Workload Reduction Toolkit and flexible working resources. Created by school leaders, teachers and other sectors in collaboration with the DfE, the bulletin also encourages teachers to understand ways in which technology can be effectively implemented in schools to make more efficient use of time, and support for new teachers through the Early Career Framework (ECF).

While these resources may be steps in the right direction, as the NUT points out it is crucial that teachers take it upon themselves to utilise these resources to their advantage and act collectively to bring about whole-profession change.

Do you agree with the DfE’s survey results? What are your own workload coping mechanisms? Comment below and share your thoughts with the SSAT network.

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