In Northern Ireland, teachers have taken a more direct approach to cutting workload.
A slow-burn industrial action has empowered them to refuse to carry out tasks they regard as unnecessary and pointless.
The trigger was a 0 per cent pay offer in 2015-2016, which led the ATL teaching union – now part of the NEU teaching union – to ballot its entire membership in the province over action on pay and workload.
The association then worked with the Ulster Teachers’ Union and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation on a policy of non-cooperation with the schools inspectorate, the ETI, and a collective refusal to carry out “pointless” tasks.
The action began in January 2017, just as the Northern Irish government collapsed. Teachers say they are now “happy” because the action allows them to focus on teaching. Gordon White, a secondary school teacher and NEU rep in Londonderry, says one strength of the campaign is the fact that all teaching unions are involved.
Decisions on exactly which tasks teachers refuse to do differs from school to school. In White’s school, it means only attending one meeting per week, not taking part in any new initiative, and not providing information or agreeing to meetings with the schools’ inspectorate.
“When the school is inspected, what is happening is the inspectors are coming into schools and they are not getting access to the classroom, so they basically stay with the principal,” says White.
He cites a recent attempt to relaunch a key stage 3 assessment for IT. “We said, ‘No, we are not going to do it.’”
“What we are trying to do is hurt the system – but not the education of young people. We feel this is a way of hurting the system.”
The result is that teachers are able to concentrate on their core jobs “as opposed to a lot of needless accountability”. “It’s amazing,” White says. “Teachers are very happy. The fact that they are in control of their day.
“There is no money for courses for teachers now. But people are just preparing for examinations, and teachers are more relaxed and the results are actually improving. The GCSE and A-level results over the last couple of years show improvement. The thing about it is teachers are happier than they were in their jobs, no doubt about that.”
Ongoing negotiations on pay and workload may mean that the action will eventually come to an end.
But many teachers no longer really want a resolution to the conflict.
“Teachers are concerned that we will settle and we will have to go back to the way things were before,” says White. “Generally speaking, people are not keen.”