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How schools are cutting workload

Tom Rogers

20 May, 2018

Teacher workload is having disastrous consequences – but some leaders are taking positive steps. 


Workload is still cited as one of the biggest factors contributing towards the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. But schools across the country are being active when it comes to introducing a more healthy work-life balance and reducing unnecessary workload. How? Here's how.


Centralising detentions

As teachers are the most valuable resource in any school, detentions should be run by members of the leadership team and even support staff where appropriate.


Where systems like this are already in place, all detentions are on a set timetable. During lessons, a classroom teacher simply clicks the student's name on the register, enters a short description of why the detention has been issued, and with that, the responsibility for all of the above is taken unashamedly out of the teacher’s hands.


The only time the teacher will hear of it again is a confirmation email confirming that the student has completed the detention and any accompanying work.


Embracing all forms of feedback

The latest guidance from the Department of Education is very clear: it is promoting a move away from written marking and feedback in favour of other forms.


There are still so many teachers out there fiddling around with green and purple pens, sticking in different sheets for students and simply going through motions to ensure a book "looks right".

Not only is none of this evidence-based, but it also takes an inordinate amount of time. This time could be spent planning a good lesson or even (God forbid) reading around the subject.


Promoting direct instruction

The Sutton Trust concluded that content knowledge and quality of instruction have the biggest impact on student outcomes. Although this isn’t a plea to only teach in one way, it's certainly a verification that more traditional forms of teaching can have a significant impact on student attainment and progress.


Direct instruction is usually in contrast to inquiry learning. According to the University of Pittsburgh, it is “a general term for the explicit teaching of a skill-set using lectures or demonstrations of the material to students”.


Some might lazily call this "chalk and talk". Of course, it is so much more, but it fundamentally places the teacher at the centre of classroom developments, as an instructor. As a teacher, I’m pragmatic in my approach, depending on the content I’m delivering and who I’m delivering it to. Nevertheless, I always have to ask the question: how does the time spent planning a lesson balance against the impact it has on the students' learning. Some schools are asking the same question. And it's a good thing.


Using comparative judgement

Daisy Christodoulou succinctly explains comparative judgement as the following:

“Comparative judgment offers a solution to the problem of assessing tasks such as essays and projects. Instead of writing prescriptive mark schemes, training markers in their use, getting them to mark a batch of essays or tasks and then come back together to moderate, comparative judgment simply asks an examiner to make a series of judgments about pairs of tasks.”


This is a trend sweeping schools and one that I believe can have some extremely positive consequences for teachers searching for ways to reduce their workload.


“Take the example of an essay on Romeo and Juliet: with comparative judgment, the examiner looks at two essays, and decides which one is better. Then they look at another pair, and decide which one is better. And so on. It is relatively quick and easy to make such judgments – much easier and quicker than marking one individual essay.”


Shelley Baker, a raising standards lead in a school in the South of England, told me that by using comparative judgement with her Year 11, she managed to reduce her marking commitment and still provide rich opportunities for students to talk in depth about their writing. “Students are now asking regularly for exemplar work, which they have created, reducing my workload, and providing a bank of resources for the department to use,” she says.


Minimal data drops

A lot of schools are switching to termly rather than half-termly data collection points. School leaders are asking: what is this data useful for? And this is incredibly positive for the direction of travel away from the previously dominant "do it for the sake of it" model.



Schools are trying to use meeting time to ensure colleagues can sit down with each other and share resources. Edtech can greatly enhance this experience, with Dropbox and Google classroom providing the opportunities to "live edit" schemes of work. Collaboration has never been easier and with some simple tools in place, it can have an immediate impact on teacher workload.


Stripping down accountability measures

Excessive accountability leads to a massive workload: there's the obvious inadequacies of "one-off" lesson observations (both Professor Robert Coe and the Education Endowment Foundation have questioned their validity), which produce plentiful paperwork requirements for both the teacher and observer.

And then we've got the work scrutinies: teachers cutting and sticking pieces of paper into books for students who simply haven’t followed instructions because the books have to "look right" – for the sake of a book review – adds to their workload for no educational benefit.

Many schools have, rightfully so, cut back on these time-consuming tasks in favour of minimal "evidencing".

This means less forms to fill in, fewer comments to write, less meetings for the sake of meetings, less coloured pens for the sake of coloured pens, less data for the sake of data.

Basically, it's minimising on the everyday teaching practices that generate more work for other people, and makes little difference to any of the pupils.

Some schools are flying forward with this approach and expect Ofsted and the Department of Education to catch up with them.


Flexitime during PPAs

Allowing teachers to come and go when they please is a fledgling idea.

In some schools, teachers take advantage of leaving early if they have a double free in the afternoon. Thankfully, the unhealthy practice of headteachers watching the staff carpark to see who leaves first is starting to be replaced by a more collegial and flexible approach to working hours in many institutions.


This attitude is having a positive impact on wellbeing (being able to take more control of time and location) and workload (being able to plan other activities around work).

Personally, I struggle to mark books immediately after school. I prefer to go home early and relax and then restart. A policy like this helps those who focus better at home.


'Email off' periods

And to end on a simple one: schools are encouraging teachers to turn off their emails when outside of work, and to concentrate on other things.

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