UK teachers seek workload cuts

Workload, according to the most recent QTU member survey, is the second most important issue for members across the state. However, it not an issue that is unique to Queensland or Australia. It is a major issue across the English-speaking world, in places like Alberta in Canada, in Scotland and in England and Wales. Developments in England and Wales are worth exploring, both for commonalities and differences.

In March last year, the UK Education Secretary announced the findings of three reviews “written by the profession for the profession”, focusing on the top three areas of workload concern.

Marking

The report said that: “Marking…has become disproportionately valued by schools and has become unnecessarily burdensome for teachers… the quantity of feedback should not be confused with the quality.” The report proposed three principles for marking (meaningful, manageable and motivating) rather than the “‘false comfort’ of deep marking”. There were 15 recommendations about changes to marking.

Planning

The review said: “There is a key distinction between the daily lesson plan and lesson planning. Too often, planning refers to the production of daily written lesson plans which function as proxy evidence for an accountability ‘paper trail’, rather than the process of effective planning for pupil progress and attainment”. The report goes on to recommend five principles for planning and 19 recommendations in total on planning and resources.

Planning principles include the importance of lesson sequences over individual plans, and that “planning should not be done simply to please outside organisations”.

Data management

On data management, the review reported “too often… the collection of data becomes an end in itself, divorced from the true purpose of improving outcomes for pupils, often just to be ready in case data are needed, what we would call gold plating”. There are 26(!) recommendations around data management, including that principles of effective data management:

  • be streamlined: eliminate duplication – “collect once, use many times”
  • be ruthless: only collect what is needed to support outcomes for children
  • be prepared to stop activity – don’t continue just because “we always have”
  • be aware of workload issues.

The reviews have very successfully identified key issues around workload and workload management in schools. The issue, however, is the implementation of change at a local level, particularly in the structures of government and delivery of education in England and Wales, which are very different from Australia.

The three review reports were the latest products of a Workload Challenge that started in 2014. The challenge received more than 44,000 responses about workload and how some of the work diverted teachers and school leaders from their core purpose of improving student outcomes. The three review groups were established in 2015 to examine the top three areas of concern.

DfE protocol

About the same time, the Department for Education (DfE) published a protocol for changes to accountability, curriculum and qualifications in response to the Workload Challenge.

The protocol included:

  • significant changes should be brought in at the start of a school year
  • there should be a lead-in time of at least a year
  • changes should not be made that affect students mid-course or qualification
  • Ofsted (the inspectorate) should not make changes to its inspection framework during the school year.

One might be inclined to put this in the NSS file (No s**t, Sherlock!) but recent research indicates that common sense is not that common.

The three review reports also refer to additional workload that results from requirements imposed by Ofsted or through processes adopted by schools to satisfy possible requirements, something that should also resonate with teachers.

Indeed, excessive workload as a result of accountability frameworks is a common complaint in devolved systems. As Association of Teachers and Leaders (ATL) General Secretary, Dr Mary Bousted, says: “The more governments devolve, the more they want their hand on the tiller.”

Changes undone

Any improvements to teacher and school leader workload will be at least partly undone by significant cuts to education funding that unions are now facing in England and Wales. That itself is worth reflection: a three-year program to reduce workload undone by funding decisions. Yet the work provides fertile ground for other systems to examine and apply.
The three review reports can be found at www.gov.uk/government/publications/reducing-teacher-workload

Graham Moloney                                                                                                             General Secretary


Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 1, 10 February 2017, p10