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Workload matters

This article is authored by Shaun Allison, Deputy Headteacher, Durrington High School and originally appeared here. He has kindly given us permission to repost.

Teacher workload is a hot topic of discussion in schools at the moment – and rightly so. The DfE have recently published the results of their ‘Teacher Workload Survey 2016’, which is available here.

This report contains some alarming results:

  • 93% of respondents to the survey stated that workload in there school was at least a fairly serious problem;
  • 52% cited workload as a very serious problem;
  • The average working hours in a week for all classroom teachers was 54.4 hours.

Our profession is creaking, and while we all hope that the DfE and OFSTED will work together to address some of these issues, school SLT have a key role to play too. At Durrington, we have always believed that a key role of the SLT is to provide the conditions in which teachers can focus on their core purpose – to teach great lessons and continue to develop their professional practice. An essential part of this is monitoring teacher workload and making changes to ensure that teachers are able to use their time effectively.

The DfE, in partnership with OFSTED and the Professional Associations have produced a really useful leaflet (above) to encourage schools to reflect on things they should and should not be doing, with regards to addressing teacher workload. The full version can be downloaded here. This is a must-read document for all SLT.

Have we completely cracked it at Durrington? Almost certainly not, but here are ten things we have done to try and make a difference.

1. A tight but loose approach to teaching

We do not stipulate to teachers how to teach. Our message is simple – implement these six pedagogical principles in your classroom, in a way that suits you.

As a result teachers don’t waste time planning their lessons artificially to fit a rigid, prescribed structure.

2. Subject Planning & Development Sessions

Once a fortnight, subject teams meet to talk about what they will be teaching over the next fortnight and how to teach it well – more here. This is the most effective form of CPD we have done in years.

As a result teacher meeting time is not spent on admin and information items, that can be shared via email, but instead it is focused on collaboratively planning effective teaching.

3. A subject-specific approach to feedback

We don’t have a generic marking policy that states the regularity with books should be marked across all subjects. Instead each department has written their own feedback policy that states (a) how feedback will be given in that subject (written/verbal/self-checking etc) (b) what the feedback will focus on eg classwork, homework, assessments and (c) how frequently this will happen.

As a result teachers are focusing on the feedback that works best for their subject and not just having to slavishly cover exercise books in red pen, simply for the sake of it.

4. No written comments for subject reports

Teachers simply give a grade for effort, homework and progress – no superficial, written targets that are not really useful for students or parents.

As a result parents and students still get regular and useful information about how they are doing, but it takes teachers a fraction of the time to write a set of reports.

5. Teachers aren’t expected to keep folders of evidence

This includes appraisal evidence files or intervention logs.

As a result they can use their time to plan effective lessons that will prevent underachievement from happening in the first place, or address it effectively in lessons.

Reducing workload, creating time
An event full of practical school-led workshops focusing on reducing workload in three key areas: Behaviour and management; Planning and resources; Marking assessment and data.

Find out more.

6. INSET days are used for collaborative work

Teacher time isn’t wasted by sitting in a hall for the whole day, listening to the same input when their needs will all be very varied. Instead, most of the day is given over to subject teams to work and plan together.

As a result subject teams are able to work together to share effective practice and share the load of planning.

7. Highly effective Curriculum Leaders make life easier for their teams

They do this by doing the simple things, that make a big difference to their teams by helping them to plan effectively. For example:

  • Printing class sets of homeworks at the start of every term and storing these centrally, so teachers don’t have to.
  • Updating the schemes of work every year with dates on them, so teachers know where they should be, by when.
  • Encouraging a culture of sharing, by emailing shared resources around the team.
  • Emailing regular bulletins to remind people about where they should be in their teaching, what’s coming up e.g. homeworks and assessments and what they should be focusing on.
  • Making sure that their team have the best resources to support effective teaching eg regularly reviewing the text books that are used.

As a result teachers feel organised and supported – as much of the planning is being done centrally for them.

8. Department reviews

Like many schools, all teachers in all subjects used to be observed at set points in the year, as directed by the SLT. Now Curriculum Leaders decide when these observations will take place and what the developmental focus will be.

As a result observations are supportive, developmental and fit with the priorities of the team. The team have ownership over the process.

9. Revision Sessions

We used to do a number of revision sessions, every night for all subjects, for Y11 from now onwards until the summer. As a result, students didn’t know which ones to go to and teachers were exhausted and exasperated as the students they wanted to attend their sessions, didn’t turn up. This year we are doing far fewer sessions and focusing on quality rather than quantity. More here.

As a result teachers are not having to prepare huge numbers of revision sessions and students are not torn between which sessions to attend.

10. An evidence informed approach

Rather than wasting teacher time on things that we think might work, we look at the research evidence and use this to inform what we do. For example, when it comes to revision, we use strategies from cognitive science – see here.

As a result teacher time is not wasted on less effective strategies. Furthermore, they don’t have to trawl through hundreds of research journals to find out what works – we do that for them.

Most importantly, we will continue to keep teacher workload under review as a school and make changes that will hopefully look after our most precious resource – our teachers.

Durrington High School is part of the SSAT network of schools – find out more about participating here.

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