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'The coalition's response to teachers' exhaustive workload is an opportunity lost'

Teachers will feel ignored and bitterly disappointed with the coalition government’s response to the workload challenge. Let us not forget that 20,000 teachers took the time, on top of a working week that averages nearly 60 hours, to deliver 44,000 responses to Nicky Morgan’s request to tell her what was driving their excessive, exhausting workload.

The DfE’s own analysis of teachers’ responses showed that the biggest driver for bureaucratic overwork is Ofsted. The second biggest driver for workload is demanded by school leaders of teachers. As ATL has argued previously, the two main workload drivers are inter-connected because Ofsted’s judgements can make or break a school and the variable quality of its inspectors means school leaders have no idea what they will demand to see. Leaders think they have to require teacher to produce mountains of duplicated evidence to “prove” they are doing their job. I’ve heard of teachers writing comments on four-year-olds’ work even when they can’t read.

The DfE’s response to the workload challenge, published today, is completely inadequate. Our members tell us that the Ofsted clarification has had very little effect on workload, largely because school leaders do not trust different inspection teams to follow the clarification guidance. Inspectors are still being told to look for “deep marking” as evidence of effective teaching and learning. As long as these quality control problems exist within the agency, the requirement for teachers to provide evidence for every aspect of their practice will continue unabated.

Without some commitment to evaluate the effect of Ofsted on teacher workload, teacher professionalism and the agency’s ability to inspect with reliability and validity, there will be no culture change and no reduction in teacher and school leader workload. Fear of a poor inspection judgement will continue to drive unproductive busy work which does nothing to raise standards of teaching and learning – rather it detracts from them.

As general secretary of ATL I have been completely clear, throughout the workload talks, that ATL is not interested in window dressing when it comes to this most serious issue. I have met too many teachers who are exhausted, burned out, stressed and driven from the profession they love because of the ridiculous demands made upon them by an accountability regime which is no longer fit for purpose.

Sir Michael Wilshaw told the Commons Education Select Committee last week that he would welcome an independent review into Ofsted’s operation and effectiveness. The weight of the critique against the agency is growing daily and concerns are mounting.

The coalition government’s response shows no sense of the urgency of this problem which is a major cause of the recruitment and retention crisis that is hitting our schools. This is an opportunity lost.

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