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The latest educational bandwagon: workload

“Teachers should stop jumping on the bandwagon!” were the wise words of a feisty retired teacher who had overheard my grumblings about the latest on teacher workload on the train home the other day. But it’s hard not to. Every school leader in the country is talking about it, every educational news outlet is chanting it and every teacher is feeling it.

Our latest education secretary, Damien Hind, vows to cut workload to tackle teacher shortage. Workload is blamed for the crisis in teacher retention. And with the Ofsted chief ‘not ruling out’ judging schools on teacher workload, head teachers across the country feverishly rack the brains of their senior leaders to think of ways to reduce teacher workload. Reports are run, lists are made, practices are evaluated, debated, slashed, rehashed, policies rewritten, reviewed, reduced… adding to the workload of anyone involved in this seemingly futile endeavour.

A parallel universe:

If we were really serious about this (and if we lived in a parallel universe), here are 3 things that would absolutely abolish this workload crisis:

  1. Get rid of Ofsted. Any teacher in the country who has encountered Ofsted will tell you about the stress, unnecessary administration and other numerous hurdles they have had to jump over in order to please Ofsted.

  2. Get rid of league tables and performance measures. The pressure from the top filters right the way down. Accountability is felt at every level and it is no wonder everyone is killing themselves trying to make their students beat their national counterparts for fear of ‘failure’.

  3. Ban political interference in education. We have seen a roller coaster of educational reform in the last 5 years. When we think we’ve caught up, something else changes. Education should be devoid of political agendas. Students should drive education, not politics.


So while we wait for the above to happen (and coming back to reality), I’d like to share with you 3 key things my school has done to polish the proverbial turd that is state-sanctioned-workload and come some way into reducing its burdens in our school.

1: Abolish retrospective book marking.

Marking is ‘unnecessarily burdensome’ when not done in a timely and specific way (EEF). It takes hours, it is usually crammed in just before a work scrutiny and it is not relevant to students’ learning when given back weeks later. ‘Live marking’ is the solution to this. Providing coded targets that focus on a key skill that is missing in a given piece of work, speeds up feedback, is in real-time and enables immediate progress to be made by the students. DPR Voice takes this to new heights: teachers can provide verbal feedback linked to a key learning objective directly onto a student’s DPR using the voice tool.

Live marking is ingenious on every level. And schools around the country are catching on. Here’s how I established this at my school.

2: No more performance management observations.

Let’s face it, teachers spend hours planning for this one off observation, ‘perform’ for it, and go back to their usual teaching (whatever that may be) afterwards. Often, bad teachers perform well and good teachers don’t. If the quality of teaching in your school is based on these results, they’re wrong. And meanwhile, your teachers are stressed, they spend their time on the wrong thing and the students are forgotten.

Instead, establish an open door culture in your school where ‘learning walks’ are a regular occurrence of school monitoring, allowing you to gather a realistic picture of the quality of teaching and learning over time. If learning walks sound scary to your teachers, change this perception. They are not punitive or judgemental. They are supportive and provide opportunities to share excellent practice. Most importantly, they will help to provide the best quality teaching to your students.

Establish a success criteria that you expect to see in any lesson in your school and score these. Regular learning walks provide a snapshot of the quality of T&L and over time, this will provide a much more realistic picture of teaching quality in your school. Teachers are left to concentrate on developing their teaching practice organically, an open door culture will establish trust and transparency and hours of creating one off lesson plans are given back to focus on the students.

3: Get rid of end of term reports.

Even the most well meaning teachers end up copy-pasting generic comments, only changing the pronouns in a futile attempt at making them individualised. Effective formative comments should be linked to key learning skills established and referred to over time. The DPR does just this. Dynamic Progress Reporting is my school’s solution to ‘life after levels’ and more: it allows teachers, students and parents to track learning over time, in real-time (and not crammed into a last minute data capture window, sweating because you have 30 minutes before the deadline and 5 classes worth of grades and comments to input...sound familiar?) Tracked against key learning objectives that are specific to a student’s ability, the DPR provides meaningful formative (as well as summative) feedback for all stakeholders in a student’s learning journey.

‘Put your head down, and focus on what works!’

...were the parting words of my retired friend from the train. And she's absolutely right. So here you have it. As we trundle along on this latest bandwagon, seriously consider the above, because they are tried and tested. My school doesn’t proclaim to have abolished teacher workload - that would be lying. But we have come a significant way into getting rid of key contributors to teachers’ efforts and time.

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