The arrival of a new education secretary in the summer cabinet reshuffle prompted much debate. There is no doubt that this was a tactical move as the coalition parties, as well as the opposition, press ahead in earnest with their election campaigns.
Whatever political posturing was behind the reshuffle, this particular change was, it seems, broadly welcomed by most education professionals.
Of course, the Gove policy legacy remains, but the arrival of Nicky Morgan has heralded another tactical change – that of befriending the teaching profession. There is no denying that she is in listening mode and has set a course to mend the relationship between the profession and government.
She is not the only one to do so. Politicians at all the main party conferences extolled the virtues of hard-working and dedicated professional teachers, and the recent announcement of the Teacher Workload Challenge survey was made by the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.
If education and the obsession with national and international league tables continue to be political priorities, it is imperative that the very real issue of teacher workload is not only a high political priority but is tackled and properly addressed.
Although we may consider political interference in education abhorrent, the presence of politics in education is an evil necessary to its existence. We therefore need to make it work for education.
With politicians targeting teacher workload, teachers now have a prime opportunity to give politicians examples, direct from the classroom, of workload and what is driving it.
There is a perception that workload, or overload, is driven by bureaucracy, but cutting bureaucracy alone, although welcome and necessary, is no panacea. What is needed is to know what drives it.
Politicians are not without blame here. It is essential that ministers realise and understand the role they play in driving workload at all levels and right into the classroom. That social mobility, future prospects, health and wellbeing are all influenced by education are well known and recognised.
In recent years, however, it seems that the only way is education. For example, there have been a number of reports showing the impact of factors outside the school gate on education. Schools and teachers play a part in tackling these inequalities through education. However, education alone is not the solution to all of the ills of society.
Politicians have to recognise this, and how workload has been influenced by the insistence that teachers not only have to play their part, but are seen to do so, can demonstrate what they have done, and why they have done it – often in duplicate.
Governments are not alone as a driver of workload of course. Ofsted and the culture of fear that surrounds it is not an urban myth, it is an unnecessary reality.
These and other points continue to be made to minsters and officials. The government’s workload survey (link below) will contribute to this, adding further credibility directly from the classroom.
The challenge will be what can be done and how quickly it can be done in the run-up to an election. If all the political parties are serious about their desire to tackle teachers’ excessive workload, and prove that befriending the profession and finding out what drives unnecessary workload is not a hasty vote-catcher, what is needed is commitment to education and the profession that transcends the political cycle.
That commitment must not only tackle the current workload crisis, but ensure that it is not allowed to recur.