Diary of a headteacher: Do you make workload worse?

Written by: Diary of a headteacher | Published:
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As a headteacher, are you contributing towards an unreasonable workload for your teachers? This is a question that our headteacher diarist asks himself regularly

It is January and a new term is upon us. As the autumn term drew towards its conclusion, the excitement of Christmas was tempered by the sheer exhaustion of the people that make our schools tick.

Now it is January and a new year stretches ahead of us. This time of year can be very challenging for teachers – the dark mornings and evenings on our way to and from work, combined with the hangover of the longest and most arduous school term can mean that many of us are dragging ourselves along with our batteries almost on empty.

Teacher workload has been a hot topic of conversation in education in recent months and we feel the strain the most in the long winter months. Workload in schools has always been an issue but in recent years it appears we have reached a tipping point as the profession teeters on the brink of a recruitment and retention crisis.

Teachers are on their knees by the time the new year rolls around and an unnecessarily heavy workload is the main reason for this.

I was pleased to see the addition of workload questions in the new Ofsted staff survey; maybe, the powers that be are finally realising that we have a problem on our hands here.

It is quite right that Ofsted is now recognising this issue and only time will tell as to whether or not this is simply lip-service or a genuine movement towards creating better working conditions for staff in schools.

However, I have challenged myself regularly throughout these past few years as a headteacher, often asking myself whether or not I am contributing towards an unreasonable workload for my teachers.

I have found that schools are full of old-fashioned systems that make life difficult and overly complicated, ultimately contributing to increasing the workload of people who are already incredibly busy. Invariably these systems have zero impact on making the school any better.

A key aspect of starting as a new headteacher is going through a process of decluttering. Decluttering can often involve removing physical objects from a school that are unnecessary, but in my experience it is the removal of clunky processes and pointless policies and practices that have had the biggest impact.

Freeing up teachers, leaders and support staff to focus on the core aspects of their roles that will make the biggest difference to the school and the students is extremely powerful. It also helps to reduce workload because all the nonsense has been cut out and the focus of everyone’s work becomes the things that are most important.

So, as we start a new year and a new term, perhaps this is a good time to ask ourselves as school leaders just how many of the tasks that we ask our teachers to do are actually necessary?

And how many of our school policies require teachers to engage in processes that have little or no impact on student progress?

Effectively, how much of a problem are we creating for ourselves?

These are very important questions for school leaders to ask ourselves because at this time of year we are more susceptible to higher levels of staff absence, and getting staff in the right frame of mind can have a huge impact on getting people into work consistently.

When a school has a high level of staff attendance and the students see the adults in the organisation consistently in work, happy and positive, the difference is very noticeable.

Achieving this is no easy feat, but a major aspect of school leadership is creating the conditions for your staff to flourish and thrive. And no time is more important for achieving this than during the dark weeks of winter.

  • SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his fourth year of headship at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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