Reading the government’s Industrial Strategy, with references to literacy and numeracy skills, STEM and technical qualifications and the role of schools and colleges in making these happen, it is apparent that Britain’s future outside Europe will depend on a strong education system, with experienced teachers who aren’t bowed by unnecessary workload.
Sadly, we’re a long way from this. Last month, the government finally published its workload survey results – from March 2016 – which showed secondary teachers working 53.5 hours a week on average, and secondary school senior leaders working 62.1 hours; 93 per cent of respondents stated workload was a fairly serious problem in their schools; with 52 per cent saying it’s a very serious problem.
Since this data was gathered a year ago, the Department for Education (DfE) has published recommendations from its working groups – on marking, planning and data. So you would hope that the problems are beginning to abate. Yet, when ATL asked school leaders last month how they felt about their workload, 81 per cent said it’s increased over the last year with 62 per cent attributing this to ever-changing government policy.
And that’s the problem. The working groups – in which all the education unions took part – produced some very useful suggestions, including things that schools could implement and ideas for Ofsted. But none have addressed the real drivers of workload: government policy change and the punitive accountability system.
The unions lobbied the government hard to guarantee that any future policy changes had a year’s lead-in-time, from when materials hit schools. Instead we have a protocol that gives a year from when a policy is announced to when it is implemented.
And, while Ofsted promises they won’t ask for marking, planning or data reporting in particular formats, we still have an accountability system based on fear of falling below a floor target, rather than identifying areas which need support. Coupling a system where schools fear failure with massive change to curriculum and exams is bound to create work, as teachers and leaders write everything down “just in case”.
On top of that are funding cuts. Schools are increasing class sizes and finding themselves responsible for more pupils for whom staff have pastoral duties thanks to local authority cuts.
Bigger classes and increased pastoral care mean more paperwork and more meetings, and less time to spend with pupils who are doing just okay. Increased contact time means less time in school outside the classroom to do this stuff, so work encroaches even more on life outside school. And still the cuts keep coming, until the only way to save money is by cutting subjects and staffing, increasing workload for those who are left.
Already, we don’t have enough teachers. Almost a quarter of secondary schools are reporting staff vacancies: we need to retain the ones we have. Solving workload problems might help with that: in an ATL survey, 68 per cent of trainees and NQTs said a lower workload would encourage them to stay in the profession in the long-term – that was even more important than salary increases (identified by 66 per cent).
So, what is to be done. At school level ATL has been running the #make1change workload campaign which brings members together in their workplaces to identify key pressures and find ways, as a whole school staff, to resolve them.
Our leadership members have set up wellbeing committees, others have cut meetings and changed policies to reduce workload.
We’ve provided guidance and promoted the DfE workload recommendations, and we supported our colleagues in Nottingham as they developed their workload charter.