Author: Ben Greenwood
Posted: 01 Oct 2019
Estimated time to read: 12 mins
Teacher workload has long been a cause for concern. The teaching crisis has consistently ranked workload as one of the main reasons that teachers are leaving the profession, the development of health issues and the inability to retain teachers.
Teacher workload is a worldwide epidemic. UK government officials are taking steps to try and tackle the problem head-on. Last year the DfE released their teacher workload reduction toolkit and this year the newly formed Edtech Leadership group aims to encourage schools to invest in technology that effectively works at reducing teacher workload.
Satchel have been building time-saving school software since 2011, and prior to that our CEO was working as an Assistant Headteacher. To help with the nation's mission to reduce teacher workload, we’ve applied this experience and created our own workload reducing toolkit.
We’ve used information provided by the DfE as well as our own experiences working with over 1600 schools globally to create our ‘Reducing Teacher Workload’ toolkit for educators. Each section is paired with actionable advice and resources that teachers can instantly apply to better help them deal with excessive workload.
The recent workload survey identified the five main areas that affected teacher workload:
This blog explores each of these areas, identifying the impact each has on workload and ways in which you can reduce this impact, alongside free resources that will help to reduce workload in each area. For our full workload reducing toolkit, including time saving resources such as a lesson sequencing plan and checklists, download our entire Reducing Teacher Workload Toolkit for free:
Managing student behaviour is one of the most difficult parts of a teacher’s job. Not only does it require skill, patience and experience, but the implications of not managing behaviour can be detrimental. In fact, over a quarter of mental health issues in teachers were provoked through student behaviour and 70% of teachers have considered leaving the profession as a result of it. That’s not to mention the physical time that teachers have to attribute to behaviour management which puts more of a strain on their wellbeing and work/life balance.
70% of teachers have considered quitting due to poor student behaviour
Behaviour management’s impact on workload:
- Detentions require teachers to spend time after school monitoring students
- Behavioural incidents require data input in behaviour logs
- In-school exclusions require additional work to be set for students
- Contacting parents/carers regarding poor behaviour requires additional work
- Behaviour action plans/risk reduction plans/incident tracking/liaising with third parties can be a time drain
- Behaviour disruptions in class can detract from learning time
- Providing additional support for staff with challenging students is time consuming
- Giving or receiving training on behaviour management eats into teachers’ time
How can we reduce the impact of behaviour management on workload?
Prevention is key when it comes to behaviour management, the idea is to promote positive behaviour in order to stop excessive negative and disruptive behaviour occurring. Here are some simple yet effective ways you can better manage behaviour so that it’s less of a strain on workload:
Behaviour policy - The most effective way to ensure positive behaviour management is to have a well-thought out and correctly implemented behaviour policy which is consistently communicated and reinforced by all stakeholders.
Centralised praise and detention system - Opt for an online praise management system to help you reinforce positive behaviour and prevent negative incidents. This will eradicate the manual task of tracking praise and sanctions, if the whole-school uses one system to monitor behaviour it ensures whole-school consistency. Also, the promotion of merits, badges and house points helps to create a positive school culture. However, in order to avoid duplicate data input ensure you find an online system that syncs with your MIS and provides writeback.
Be aware of behaviour issues - Communicating with your SENDCO and understanding behavioural issues will help you cater for students who need extra support and will allow you to spot signs of existing behaviour issues and the knowledge on how to approach these.
Clear processes - Detentions are inevitable. To help reduce the impact of time spent after-school supervising students, ensure time is paid back to teachers in lieu. Having a clear escalation process from teacher to SLT, as well as providing NQT with additional training and support at the start of their career can help to avoid the development of poor behaviour management skills for the rest of their time in education.
Marking & Feedback
Providing your students with feedback and marking is critical to their success but it is also cited by teachers as one of the biggest contributors to their workload. Many schools fall into the trap of over-marking student work, clouded by misconceptions that providing written feedback for every piece of work adds value for the student, when in fact this isn’t always the case.
73% of secondary teachers reported spending too much time marking students’ work
Marking and feedback’s impact on workload:
- Marking that is done only to appease SLT or for internal assessment purposes detracts value and adds to work
- If marking is completed for every task, but doesn’t always add value to the students’ work
- When teachers mark due to the belief that it's necessary for Ofsted
- Using only written feedback as opposed to different methods
- If no tools are used to enhance or streamline the marking process, marking will take longer
How can we reduce the impact of marking and feedback on workload?
In order to help reduce teachers’ workload when it comes to marking and feedback we need to expose them to alternate marking and feedback practices that are less time consuming than written feedback, as well as help to debunk myths surrounding marking:
Explore quicker marking techniques - There’s no disputing that marking and feedback can greatly aid student progression, however, it’s important that various different techniques are employed to achieve this. There are a multitude of feedback techniques that are much less time-intensive than ‘traditional’ written feedback in books; verbal feedback, live marking, selective/focused marking, whole class feedback sheets and peer marking are valuable marking and feedback techniques, all of which can help to reduce the strain on teacher workload.
Familiarise your staff with the purpose of marking and feedback - The purpose of marking is to help students progress and to inform teachers of what needs to be covered in future lessons. Marking should, in one way or another, add value to teaching and learning, direct students on how they can improve, and provide teachers with insight into students’ understanding of a topic or subject so they can adjust plans and materials accordingly. Communicate this to your staff and remind them, that if they ever find that the marking they are doing isn’t meeting either of these two purposes then they should change their marking strategy.
Don’t be afraid to change habits - When introducing work reduction initiatives, which includes asking staff to stop what might be a career long practice, it can be both difficult and daunting. Don’t be afraid to tell you staff to stop marking, the impact of them reducing time spent on pointless tasks will only better them as a teacher by allowing them more time to apply to tasks that add value. Eliminating something from their workload will also allow them to have more down time, preventing teacher burnout. To help implement these rules create a new policy if needs be, and lead by example - your staff are more likely to follow suit if you make the move first.
Embrace online grading technology - Technology has the ability to enhance and streamline marking techniques that may already be quicker than written feedback. For example, online gradebooks and auto-graded quizzes and assignments can help to take the physical marking effort out of the equation leaving teachers with results which provide them with information they need - whether or not students are making progress.
Data management is one of the top three biggest strains on teacher workload. Often, the data teachers track and input is duplicative and unnecessary, adding little or no value to students’ progression. The biggest challenge in reducing data management is breaking the habit. When reporting and data input has been done for so many years it becomes second nature to teachers, even though it is time-consuming and not entirely beneficial.
75% of teachers say they spend too much time on data management
Data management’s impact on workload:
- When the way in which data is tracked and input is outdated or manual meaning it takes longer than it needs to
- Sometimes unnecessary data is collected and collated, wasting time
- If the same data is at times collected repeatedly for different purposes/audiences
- At times when data is collected simply for the sake of collecting it
- Where some technology purchased by schools creates more data management
How can we reduce the impact data management has on workload?
In order to reduce the impact data management has on workload, the amount of data, its value, and the way in which it is collected needs to be assessed. Reducing the amount of data you collect and how often you expect yourself and your staff to report on it will have an immediate impact on teaching workload:
Audit the data you collect to assess its worth - By completing an audit of the data you currently collect, you can more easily assess the value of data, the frequency at which it is collected and the reason for the collection. This audit will provide you with the information you need and help you eliminate data collection which doesn’t add value, saving teachers’ time instantly.
Debunk myths associated with data management - Some of the reasons for pointless data collection and hours spent collating data comes down to people conforming to myths surrounding Ofsted. Ofsted do not require data to be presented in a particular format and do not encourage multiple attainment data collection points throughout the year. This should be done only 2 or 3 times a year and each of these collections should be used to inform clear actions.
Ensure data meets the requirements outlined by the workload advisory group - When performing an audit of data collected, or when deciding on whether or not you should collect new data, be sure to refer to the following guidelines outlined by The Workload Advisory Group. This will help you ascertain whether or not data is worthwhile and ensure you only collect data that’s necessary.
- Purpose: The use and purpose of data is in line with school values, understood by all and relevant to its intended audience
- Precision: The precision and limitations of data collected, as well as what can be inferred from it, are fully understood
- Proportionate: The amount and frequency at which data is collected is proportionate to the effort that is required and results that are seen
- Processes: The processes for collecting data and the way in which data is used is reviewed and evaluated to ensure it is as beneficial as possible
Ensure the technology you use aids data management and doesn’t add to it - Adopting new technologies that can streamline previously manual and arduous processes can help to reduce workload and save an inordinate amount of time. However, the implementation of such software needs to be savvy to ensure that the investment you’re making is actually reducing workload and not just providing your staff with another way to input data. You can avoid this by fully investigating software before you buy it. It’s also good practice to assess the current technology you are using for data to see if there’s still a need for it, consider whether or not multiple pieces of software can be consolidated or if there’s a better alternative.
Key considerations include:
- Does this system writeback?
- Can one system perform multiple functions we need?
- Is it easy to use?
- Does this serve a purpose for my school?
Curriculum planning and resources
PPA (planning, preparation and analysis) eats up a lot of teachers’ time. Preparing curriculum plans and analysing their effectiveness helps schools to develop their teaching materials, but it is also time consuming for teachers. By making planning faster and more efficient, teacher workload can be significantly reduced. Misconceptions about Ofsted requirements has seen many schools focus too heavily on daily and weekly planning, upping workload without having any demonstrable benefits.
56% of teachers believe that they spend ‘too much time’ on planning and preparation for lessons
Curriculum planning and resource creation’s impact on workload:
- Overplanning increases teacher workload without necessarily improving lesson quality
- Leadership often places too much importance on lesson plans, leading to a more bureaucratic school culture
- Teachers often plan outside of working hours at home and on days off or holidays
- Finding acceptable, high quality resources is time consuming
- Teachers are creating their own resources as they don’t have access to materials they need
Curriculum planning and resource creation’s impact on workload:
- If teachers overplan this can increase their workload without necessarily improving lesson quality
- When leadership place too much importance on lesson plans, leading to a more bureaucratic school culture
- When teachers plan outside of working hours at home and on days off or holidays
- At times when finding acceptable, high quality resources is challenging and becomes time consuming
- When teachers are creating their own resources as they don’t have access to materials they need
How can we reduce the impact of planning and sourcing materials on teacher workload?
Prevent overplanning - Whilst curriculum planning is important, planning every single lesson isn’t always the most effective approach. By taking a step back and planning a sequence of lessons, teachers can slash planning time significantly. However, if needed, this chunk of planning can be split into smaller logical modules that fit roughly into a daily or weekly plan, eliminating unnecessary workload around planning and teaching resources.
Facilitate collaborative planning - Allotting time for teachers to plan lessons together allows for a creative learning environment for educators. Teachers can learn from each other as well as developing ideas for their lessons in a more collaborative environment. This can be hugely helpful for teachers that are new to the profession and those who have been teaching for longer but are seeking to update their planning technique.
Make quality-assured content readily available to teachers - SLT should strive to provide teachers with access to quality resources. This saves time that teachers would otherwise have to spend researching and reading resources in order to find suitable material to use in class. By having a preselected library full of useful and relevant materials, teachers can save time in their busy schedule for the more important aspects of the job. Materials such as textbooks, relevant literature and revision guides will help students get the most out of the subject, without subjecting teachers to hours of research time.
Regularly assess lesson plan protocol - School senior leadership often places pressure on teachers to complete lesson plans, as a way of measuring performance and in a bid to achieve a higher Ofsted rating. However, Ofsted does not require daily or weekly lesson planning from a school for it to qualify as outstanding, despite common misconceptions. Instead, school leaders should look to emphasise the quality of lessons and work to assess teacher performance in another way (e.g. Student surveys, results etc). By regularly assessing policy surrounding lesson plans, SLT can ensure that teachers are planning effectively and performing to the best of their abilities.
Schools rely on communication in its many forms to help maintain an environment where teachers are kept up to date, parents are always informed and students have all the information they need to learn as effectively as possible. However, as most schools have a plethora of communication channels at their disposal, it can be easy to overuse and over complicate internal and external communication. It’s good practice to regularly assess communication policy to ensure that channels are being used efficiently and that time isn’t being wasted on ineffective forms of communication.
82% of parents want schools to do more when it comes to keeping them informed about their children’s progress
Communications’ impact on teacher workload:
- With 24/7 access to emails, teachers’ workloads have suffered. Constant access to communication can be damaging to teachers’ mental health.
- Parents often find it hard to communicate with teachers or find the information they are looking for. This means more time is wasted arranging meetings or speaking over the phone with parents.
- Long staff meetings increase teacher workload drastically. By having long, unregulated meetings the school could be putting teaching quality at risk.
- Not displaying the school’s communication policy clearly via social media, email and on the school site can lead to confusion among parents and the need for teachers to explain policy to parents.
How can we improve home and school communication to reduce teacher workload?
Safeguarding teachers’ time - Teachers’ workloads already comprise of out-of-hours marking, planning and resource creation, the last thing they need is extra emails to respond to as well. By introducing ‘office hours’; set times where teachers no longer receive or respond to emails, SLT can reduce teachers’ out-of-hours workload where possible.
Improve meetings - Meetings should also be regulated closely, taking care not to pull teachers into meetings that aren’t relevant to them. This can be achieved by either condensing less important meetings and putting them into a staff email or making sure meetings that do take place have a clear agenda and that teachers are made aware of the meeting well in advance.
Properly displaying school policy and resources - Ensuring that school policies are easy to access is paramount in saving staff time and effort, as well as improving parent engagement. By making it easier to find important documents such as school policies and permission slips, you can save teachers’ valuable time and give parents better access to important information in the process. Writing notes for students, calling home, disciplining students and having meetings with parents can all be reduced via clear presentation of school policy and school resources, either on the school website or in a regular school newsletter.