The working environment in schools is becoming increasingly bureaucratic. Working hours are already high for teachers, the last thing they need is more paperwork and hoops to jump through. In 2014, amid mounting pressure to act on the teacher workload crisis, the government created the Workload Challenge.
The Workload Challenge asked 44,000 teachers what the biggest unnecessary impact on their workload was. The results found that ‘marking’, ‘planning’ and ‘data management’ were the three worst offenders. These are the areas that most schools set strict policy around however, the policies they set aren’t always well communicated to the school body as well as not always being regularly reviewed to ensure they’re up to date with current best practices.
Teachers often feel pressured to ‘overmark’ students’ work, giving in-depth advice and word-by-word constructive criticism. This isn’t necessarily the best approach. Marking with a focus on the topic in hand and the subject as a whole is much more important. Other techniques, such as getting students to self assess their work or marking as a class, often produce better learning outcomes for certain lesson types. This not only takes the pressure off teachers, but also enriches and diversifies the learning process for students, keeping them more engaged for longer. By building these alternative marking techniques into school policy, we can reduce the impact that marking has on teaching workload.
Overplanning’ is another black hole for teachers’ time. Planning lessons is important as they ensure the work you’re planning coincides with the curriculum, your class stays on schedule and that students are progressing their learning week on week. However, many schools encourage overly detailed plans for each lesson, when in reality, this isn’t productive for teachers.
Instead of planning each lesson in depth, teachers should take a step back and look at the broader curriculum. Ask “What do students need to know at the end of this term?”, “How can I ensure they get there?”, “Which resources do they need?” and “How can I assess their progress”. It’s easier to form a broader plan which can be broken into ‘lesson sequences’, easing the pressure to overplan and ensuring that after a sequence of lessons, your student’s will be up to date and ready to progress.
Collecting data on student progress is hugely important for school leaders. It allows them to assess teachers and departments and ensures that the school is giving students the education and nurture they need to succeed. However, many schools fall into the trap of trying to set a blanket data policy for the whole school.
Allowing individual departments to devise their own data policy, one that works for them, can reduce teacher workload drastically
This isn’t the most effective way to manage data, as some departments will naturally require more assessments than others. Departments that do not require as many assessments may feel pressured to add unneeded assessments to comply with policy. Allowing individual departments to devise their own data policy, one that works for them, can reduce teacher workload drastically. It can also give a more realistic overview of how they are performing to SLT.
The benefits of dealing with these 3 issues:
Reducing the time teachers spend on needless tasks doesn’t just save time, it boosts their mood and improves overall morale. This, in turn, gives teachers more time and freedom to unleash their creativity with lesson planning and learning outcomes. Reducing teacher workload benefits the whole school, including students. With more time to spend on the things that matter, teachers can ensure that students are engaged in lessons and making learning progress week on week. Reducing workload also improves work-life balance and could even ease the current teacher retention crisis, by showing teachers that we care about their wellbeing and want to safeguard their time so they can do the job they love properly.
Schools should make sure that activity which reduces teacher workload is written into school policy, reviewed on a termly or yearly basis and amended when changes are made to the school structure or to government education policy.