A year ago this week the prime minister appointed me as secretary of state for education. It was the greatest privilege to be asked to do this job, and the heaviest responsibility.
In case I needed reminding, I quickly learned that everyone has an opinion on education and rightly so, given its importance not only to society, but for many of us more personally as parents or as one of the million-plus people who work in the sector. A large part of my job is therefore to listen and take on board what people think, their hopes, their worries, their desire to make the best choices they can for themselves and their children.
What has shone out, both in the visits I take on a regular basis, and in my many conversations with all the groups involved, is the total commitment and dedication of those who work in the sector, from early years teachers helping children develop communication skills, to trainers working with adults who need new skills for an employment landscape that can change at bewildering speed.
As a Tes reader I know that you may well be one of them and I’d just like to thank you. I am constantly humbled and grateful for what you do, day in day out.
Early on in my time as education secretary I singled out teachers’ workload as my number one concern.
Our teachers have been working long hours for many years, and also work longer hours than their European counterparts, but more than half of their time is not actually spent teaching. I think teachers work too many hours. I want our teachers spending far fewer hours on energy-sapping administrative tasks so they can devote their energies to what they do best – that is, what they do at the front of the classroom.
So I have taken action. In the last year I have clarified with Amanda Spielman exactly what Ofsted expects to see when inspecting a school, making it clear that teachers do not need to fill out templates for individual lesson plans, or “triple mark” every piece of work.
We have launched a workload reduction toolkit – an online resource providing practical advice and examples to help staff in schools take action to reduce workload. I am delighted that the materials have collectively been downloaded more than 80,000 times, and I hope many of you are already finding it helpful.
I have accepted every one of the Workload Advisory Group’s recommendations in their Making data work report to reduce the burden of data entry and collection for schools.
I have written to school leaders – jointly with Ofsted, ASCL, NAHT, the NGA and the CST – to ask them to take action to reduce the workload of their teaching staff.
And progress is being made. Seventy-three per cent of teachers and leaders report that their schools have reviewed or updated school policies, 67 per cent have reduced or changed their approach to marking and 49 per cent have changed their approach to planning in order to evaluate and reduce unnecessary workload.
This is excellent progress – and I congratulate everyone who is helping to make change happen – but we cannot afford to ease up on this.
Workload has been cited as one of the main reasons for teachers leaving the profession over a number of years. It is a complex problem that didn’t blow up overnight, and I don’t expect us to solve it in one go. Schools’ working patterns are entrenched, but so is my determination to tackle the issue.
You can be assured that we are not giving up on this. As I start my second year on the job, creating a culture where teachers love their jobs and where the brightest and the best are drawn to teaching as an attractive and rewarding profession is as important to me as ever. I will be setting out the key steps we will take to support this shortly in our forthcoming recruitment and retention strategy.
And as a key part of that, I have worked closely with Amanda ahead of the new Ofsted framework to ensure that it has – for the first time – an active focus on reducing teacher workload. This will specifically take into account a school leadership’s approach to workload when a school is inspected.
I have looked hard for the golden lever to pull to reduce your workload. It’s not there or believe me, I would have found it. This complex issue requires a whole system approach to tackle it. DfE, Ofsted, school and trust leaders, governors and parents, we all have a role. I want to assure all of you, whatever role you play in the education community, that I am not going to let up until we crack it.
Damian Hinds is the secretary of state for education