Three tips to reduce teacher workload

Written by: Imogen Rowley | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The battle to reduce workload in school continues. Imogen Rowley offers advice to reduce workload across three key areas

Funding cuts, changes to the curriculum and increased accountability are all contributing to excessive workloads in schools.

As a result, teachers are being squeezed tighter and pushed further every day, but there are things that can be done to ease that pressure. And it’s not just teachers – headteachers, school business managers (SBMs) and admin and support staff are all drowning in work, but are too-often forgotten in the workload debate. So below are three things you can try to help ease workload for everyone in your school.

1, Lessen the reliance on pupil performance data

Ofsted has warned against an over-dependence on data to assess pupil performance (because it’s not always reliable), yet many SBMs and teachers across the country invest significant chunks of time in tracking every move their pupils make. It is hard to avoid, especially under the current accountability system, but there are ways to make smarter data decisions

Try moving away from a need for precise predictions of individual pupil outcomes. Instead, use a wider banding measure to reduce the reliance on false precision but still get a good sense of how well a cohort will do in exams. You can also measure progress against a specific statement or a knowledge test of key concepts, terms or facts, rather than predicting Progress 8 scores.

Avoid analysing very small groups at school level. Ofsted will want to check the performance of different groups, such as disadvantaged pupils or the most able, but some are just too small to make any meaningful inferences.

Provide multiple sources of evidence for Ofsted to assess pupil progress among different groups – things you use anyway – such as lesson observations, work scrutinies and opportunities for discussions with pupils.

See Arm Yourself!, a recent School Data Updates blog for more discussion around these issues (June 2018): http://bit.ly/2x6WkmB

2, Introduce flexible working practices

It is hard to shake off the impression that flexible working just “won’t work” for teachers, but in an industry struggling with chronic recruitment and retention issues, it would make sense for schools to be more open to allowing flexible working. However, we need examples of schools that are doing it, and doing it well, before we can take the plunge ourselves.

Manchester Communication Academy has offered flexible working since it opened in 2010, with 12 of its 100 teachers working flexibly. It is able to do so thanks to its formulaic timetable: the school is organised into six faculty areas, and each year group is timetabled to one faculty area per period.

This means that each faculty is free for two periods every week – and the school can make adjustments to whether these periods fall earlier or later in the day if some teachers need to drop children at school or care for elderly relatives. Being open to part-time applicants also means the academy spends less money on expensive supply staff, reducing its supply budget by 73 per cent last year. For more on this case study, see the Key’s website: http://bit.ly/2MljbR2

To make flexible working work for you:

  • See if you can adjust the timetable to allow free or PPA time at the beginning or end of the day.
  • Facilitate job shares – these can work well for teachers too, as long as there is shared non-contact time for proper handovers and planning, and if the teachers agree clear expectations for sharing responsibilities like reports and parents’ evenings.
  • Advertise all vacancies as flexible hours, to attract a wider pool of candidates and make sure you don’t inadvertently put off outstanding staff.

3, Create an in-box management strategy

Changing your school’s culture around sending and receiving emails can go a long way towards staff feeling they have a sense of control over their time, but it is important that everyone is on the same page with any new strategy or approach you introduce. Just one teacher replying to a parent outside school hours, or a senior leader emailing staff when they should be at home or on holiday, for example, sets an unwelcome precedent for everyone. Here are three things your staff can do to keep their in-boxes in check:

  • Set designated times of the day for checking emails and disable all notifications on phones or desktops to avoid being distracted when doing other things (you might also consider imposing a whole-school email curfew, so nobody is allowed to send emails outside agreed times).
  • Create filters and rules to send emails that meet specific criteria straight to the correct place – this cuts distractions from the likes of new offers on office stationery when a tricky pastoral issue needs to take priority.
  • Set-up an automated reply to explain that teachers or other staff will only reply at certain times, or that they will reply within the next 48 hours – this eases the pressure to respond and reassures the sender that their message has been received.

Excessive workload in schools will not go away overnight, and certainly it will require a shift in mindset to overhaul many practices that have become so ingrained in school life. But little-by-little, everyone can chip away at the day-to-day practices that contribute to the workload burden, and make working in a school the rewarding and enjoyable experience it deserves to be.

  • Imogen Rowley is a content producer at The Key, which provides leadership and management support to schools.

Further information

For more tips and advice on tackling workload, visit The Key’s workload resource hub at
https://schoolleaders.thekeysupport.com/staff/teacher-workload-and-wellbeing/


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