‘Bitter disappointment’ at Workload Challenge response


The government’s response to the Workload Challenge earlier this month has left education unions disappointed.

After 43,832 teachers responded to the government’s Workload Challenge, hopes were high that the initiative, led by education secretary Nicky Morgan, might lead to real change.

However, the government’s formal response to the survey’s findings has not been well received by the profession, and has even sparked a joint-letter of protest from five education unions.

The findings of the consultation showed that 53 per cent of the respondents cited “accountability/perceived pressures of Ofsted” as a key driver of workload.  A further 51 per cent cited tasks set by senior or middle leaders. 

The survey also asked respondents to rank “unnecessary and unproductive” tasks that add to their workload. The top results were:

  • Recording, inputting, monitoring and analysing data: 56 per cent

  • Excessive/depth of marking, including the detail and frequency required: 53 per cent

  • Lesson/weekly planning, including the detail and frequency required: 38 per cent.

  • Basic administrative and support tasks: 37 per cent

  • Staff meetings: 26 per cent.

  • Reporting on pupil progress: 24 per cent

  • Pupil targets – setting and continual review: 21 per cent

  • Implementing new initiatives/curriculum and qualification change: 20 per cent.

The government’s response, issued jointly by Ms Morgan and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, included a pledge to give schools a “minimum lead-in time for significant accountability, curriculum and qualification changes”.

It also included commitments by Ofsted not to change its inspection handbook or framework during a school year “except when absolutely necessary”, and from 2016 onwards to make the handbook “shorter and simpler”. 

Ofsted is also to clarify “what is and what is not required by inspectors”.

However, education unions were left frustrated at the lack of “tangible” action to tackle the effects on workload of the inspection regime and the government’s education reforms.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said: “Teachers will feel ignored and bitterly disappointed that the government is doing nothing tangible to cut their workload after 44,000 of them contacted Nicky Morgan to tell her about the amount of work they do.”

The joint letter to Ms Morgan was signed by the ATL as well as the National Association of Head Teachers, Association of School and College Leaders, Voice, and the National Union of Teachers.

It states: “The government’s response to the Workload Challenge contains little new with regard to inspection and we therefore do not believe your proposals will get close to the root cause of the workload problem. 

“The failure of the response to the Workload Challenge to robustly address these problems is certainly a missed opportunity which will disappoint teachers and school leaders and will hugely undermine the other work that is planned.

“You should be clear that is not just ‘fear’ of Ofsted that is leading to unnecessary workload; the operation of the inspection system itself is a material factor. This is not alas about perception but the lived experience of our colleagues.”

Among other recommendations, the unions called on Ofsted to communicate the need for teacher workload to be managed in order to give a “signal to the whole system”. The unions also called for Ms Morgan to set a target for the reduction of teachers’ working hours.

The NASUWT also slammed the government response and has sent its own letter to Ms Morgan. It said that current drivers of workload included curriculum, qualifications and assessment reform, pay and performance management reform, SEND reforms and changes to inspection.

General secretary Chris Keates said: “The coalition government has created a culture in schools where anything goes and where any adverse impact on the health and wellbeing of teachers is simply regarded as collateral damage.

“Anyone reading the report would be forgiven for thinking that workload is a marginal issue, that the current recruitment crisis does not exist and that nearly two-thirds of teachers are not seriously considering quitting the profession.

“The excessive workload burdens on teachers have been evident since 2011 and have risen year-on-year.”

The Workload Challenge results and the government’s formal response can be found at www.gov.uk/government/publications/workload-challenge-for-schools-government-response


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