Although me and my friend are being a little flippant, sometimes black comedy is necessary in education, this weekend’s speech by Damien Hinds suggesting that teacher workload needs to be decreased was welcome. The tone was just right and he has recognised that teacher recruitment and retention is the number 1 issue and that workload is the key ingredient. A good start but what is going to be more difficult is the practical task of doing something about it. When we discuss workload and write about stress and wellbeing – as I and others – have done, what is clear is that we are dealing with at least 3 significant players: the government, school cultures, and teacher’s own mindsets.
Here’s a few thoughts
What can government do?
1. Government and other bodies can stop sentences that begin with the words ‘schools should….’ where what follows is a desire that educators fill the gaps vacated by other sectors. There have been cuts to counselling, social care, benefit payments etc. Schools, and sometimes teachers out of their own pockets, are filling the gaps. Recent newspaper headlines announce that schools need to do more on mental health, more to tackle obesity, more to prevent radicalisation, more to stop female genital mutilation. I could go on. One key narrative in schools and colleges in the past few years is the story of staff increasingly becoming parents, social workers and counsellors as well as teachers. Government needs to fund these agencies properly so that in schools, the main thing can be the main thing. Teachers and others who work in education are just too caring to say it’s not my job and they are currently filling many of these gaps.
2. Leave the curriculum alone for a while: It was recognised by Damien Hinds that government needs to stop the constant change to curriculum. Whether or not GCSE and A-level required substantial reform is another matter; what it did not require was for GCSEs and A-levels to change at the same time and for those reforms to be staggered so that some subjects change and others change the year after. This has led to an enormous workload for staff. Let’s leave the curriculum largely as it is so that in five years time we can assess which of the many changes have actually had an impact.
3. Look again at mechanisms such as OFSTED and league tables. These mechanisms both rely on the principle of competition; they set school against school and, with performance related pay, set teacher against teacher. Why should I collaborate with my colleagues if in 12 months time they are going to get better results than me and I lose out on a pay increase or my school is the one that requires improvement? Let’s aim to have a system that gives the benefit of the doubt so that the majority of teachers and school leaders aren’t living in constant fear and worry.
4. Pay and stuff… Yes, teachers’ primary motivation is not money but like everyone else they have bills to pay. In the case of younger staff there is often large student debt and little prospect of getting on the housing ladder. In addition to giving all staff, particularly those at the lower ends of the pay scale, a decent above inflation rise, can we look at a scheme where student loans are cancelled for those who teach for at least a few years and a scheme where teachers can have help with housing?
What can schools do?
1. Schools need to consider what it is that is adding to the workload of their staff. There are a number of practices in some schools such as excessive marking policies and high-stakes graded lesson observations that are adding to stress without necessarily improving the outcomes. Schools need to look at email protocols and protect their staff against the expectation of 24/7 availability. Although there are no easy answers, each new initiative needs to include what we should stop doing in order to do this new thing.
2. Ensure that they are developing the staff that they have. It is frustrating that so many much of a high quality CPD that I have experienced has been on the Saturday at conferences attended in my own time. Debra Kidd’s recent reflection on Northern Rocks and the possibility of a national training day(s) are interesting. Could schools in an area plan CPD days together so that collaborative time built into the system? Could schools give credit where additional Saturday events are attended, could schools credit staff with time off in lieu?
3. A culture of ‘Love over fear’ – Hopefully school leaders are aware of John Tomsett’s excellent book. In a time of teacher shortage, schools need to manage their staff well. If they don’t, staff will feel brave enough to look elsewhere knowing that teacher supply is not keeping up with demand. Schools need to start with the premise that staff are hard-working and trustworthy and support them. As John Tomsett puts it ‘look after the staff and the staff will look after the school’ make sure that staff are able to attend their own children’s events, medical appointments, are allowed time off for funerals etc. It seems obvious but a glance through edu-twitter and comments on forums suggest that poor people management is rife in many places.
4. Look at your marking and feedback policy and consider how it can be streamlined. Reading this from @mrshumanities may start some conversations. As Dylan William has recently said, we need to get across to parents that the expectation that everything a child does is marked, is not realistic and is not even good teaching.
BONUS What can I do?
Ultimately as teachers we can also be our own worst enemies. We can be guilty of perfectionism, and because we are busy, we don’t always stop to think about what we are doing. I have written about some of these things before on this blog and in my book but briefly
1. Set clear boundaries -including not working more than 50 hours in any one week and having clear and planned time off. (See my #50isplenty blog)
2. Look at your plan for marking and feedback: have a year plan, and decide when and what you will mark.
3. Read things about time management and organisation.
4. Accept that it will never be perfect, there will always be more you can do, and just STOP.
Finally, I wish Damian Hinds well. I think he understands the issues. It remains to be seen whether practically he can do anything that significantly improves things or whether the solution comes from within.