Saving time: Doing more by doing less

Written by: Adam Riches | Published:

Time is our most precious commodity and it is often in short supply. In this series, Adam Riches looks at how we can change common practices to help save time and improve teaching and learning. This time, he looks at general workload reduction ideas


It seems counter-intuitive to think that you can get more from people by getting them to do less, but quite often stripping back workload and making staff aware of how to be more effective and efficient can have a huge impact on classroom practice.

Teaching is an intense game and giving (and encouraging) staff to save time can significantly boost the morale and reduce stress within departments and across the whole school.

So, embracing the idea that “less is more”, here are a few sure-fire ways to reduce undue pressure on teachers.


Doing away with paperwork

Gone are the days of needing lesson plans that detail each individual minute of each individual lesson. During training, detailed lesson planning plays a key role, but for teachers on the ground, day-in, day-out, detailed lesson plans are a waste of time. Insisting on, or even implying that teachers should prepare these (even if it is just for “observed” lessons) can really create a lot of unnecessary work. Responsive teaching is much more desirable. Doing away with unnecessary planning proformas leaves more time for collaborative planning or refining the lessons that are going to be taught.

Similarly, assessment data being recorded and never being used is another huge time-waster. Strip it away and stick to set assessment points which are drilled down on. Encourage teachers to use the extra time giving feedback instead of marking – I know which one I would rather see my teachers undertaking.

Written reports are another archaic practice that is a complete waste of valuable teacher time. Take them out and see how much stress is relieved (you will also see how little impact a written report actually has).

However, beware: if you tell staff not to do something, but they still think they might need to or do not know how else they can use their time, they will just stick to their old habits – reducing workload can yield more productivity if it is coupled with vision and effective training.


Stripping back central CPD

At the core of any school are the teaching and learning principles. If these are complex and convoluted, they will not be beneficial to staff; in fact, they will add to the stress. Focusing on embedding carefully selected approaches is key. In addition, ensuring that these approaches are drip-fed and spaced is also of paramount importance.

Using fewer approaches will more likely have a higher impact over time for a number of reasons. First, you can build shared efficacy across the teaching body around the approach being taken – something we know has a huge impact (Bandura, 1997; Eells, 2011). This also builds a commonality of language, something that is crucial for whole school progress.

Second, it is possible to build a baseline for staff to work to, increasing the clarity with regard to expectations. And finally, motivation levels significantly increase if staff feel that they are seeing progress.

Ultimately, by reducing the number of incentives being introduced, there is less white noise. By the same token, it is also easier for leaders to track and monitor staff needs if the CPD offer is more streamlined, not to mention how much easier it is to note the impact.


Centralised detentions

Having classroom staff spend their time enforcing punishments is not a good use of expertise. Although the idea is debated and potentially rather controversial to some, I believe that central detentions are significantly more staff and pupil-friendly.

By separating the behavioural punishment and the teacher, workload is reduced significantly. Approaches like this take time and planning, but the difference it can have on staff morale is incredible. Not only do staff get their lunch, break and after-school time back, they feel supported centrally and a part of a wider collective approach.

In addition, systems such as this allow for a much clearer monitoring of behaviour from a leadership perspective and this can lead to more effective support being given to those students who need it most.

The knock-on effect for staff is that once again, there is more time for teachers to teach and prepare to teach – it is as simple as that.


The reality

There are plenty more ways that leaders can reduce the burden on staff. For more, try SecEd’s recent two-part Best Practice Focus on reducing workload, (Bromley, 2019).

If managed effectively, doing less can lead to teachers doing a lot more. What is required is a collective understanding that being told to do less does not mean that your output is less, it means you have the time to work more efficiently and effectively.

It is the job of leaders to ensure that classroom teachers have the required time and capacity to focus on teaching children things. After all, it is what is most important.


  • Adam Riches is a senior leader for teaching and learning, a Specialist Leader in Education and author the upcoming book, Teach Smarter. Follow him on Twitter @TeachMrRiches. Read his previous articles for SecEd, including in this series, at http://bit.ly/2DhTAJu

Further information & resources

  • Self-Efficacy: The exercise of control, Bandura, Freeman, 1997.
  • Meta-analysis of the relationship between collective teacher efficacy and student achievement efficacy and student achievement, Eells, Loyola University Chicago, 2011: http://bit.ly/3958KNf
  • Reducing teacher workload: Part 1, SecEd Best Practice Focus, Bromley, October 2019: http://bit.ly/33fVUJb
  • Reducing teacher workload: Part 2, SecEd Best Practice Focus, Bromley, November 2019: http://bit.ly/2PLmQgf


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