DfE plans to reduce teacher workload ignored by 80 per cent of schools

DfE-commissioned research finds situation is even more acute according to views of classroom teachers

Will Hazell

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Only a fifth of school leaders have acted on official recommendations designed to reduce teacher workload, new government-commissioned research has found.

The worrying finding from a survey of teachers for the Department for Education appears even worse when only classroom teachers are considered.

It found that just 5 per cent said their school had “actively addressed” recommendations in official reports on reducing workload published as part of the government’s Workload Challenge.

Among the senior school leaders, nearly two-thirds had not even used the reports to review their existing policies, the survey found.

The teacher voice omnibus survey – which is run by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) but includes questions submitted by the Department for Education – polled 1,836 teachers from 1,629 schools in the English maintained sector

It asked senior leaders and classroom teachers what their school had done to evaluate and reduce unnecessary workload from a pre-selected list of options.

The government’s Workload Challenge was launched in 2014 to reduce workload and resulted in the publication of three independent reports on recording, analysing and monitoring data; ineffective marking; and lesson planning. 

Workload challenge

Only 20 per cent of senior leaders said their schools "actively addressed" the recommendations contained in the three reports, while just 36 per cent said they had "used" the reports "as a basis to review current policies".

About a quarter (26 per cent) of school leaders and classroom teachers indicated that their school had used advice from Ofsted, such as the Ofsted handbook or #OfstedMyths to change practice, while 17 per cent said their school had carried out a workload survey of staff.

However, 47 per cent of all respondents said their school had not used any of the methods listed in the survey to evaluate and reduce unnecessary workload.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Senior leaders are very conscious that what they want to do is to allow teachers to focus on the most important things which are planning lessons, teaching lessons and assessing lessons.”

However, he said in recent years the "external juggernaut" of curriculum and qualification reform had made extra workload "pretty non-negotiable".

Mr Barton added that just because school leaders might not be implementing the three Workload Challenge reports, it did not mean they were not taking action to curb workload.

"In my 15 years of headship there was always a committee at the DfE which was looking at something and then reporting on something - sometimes to do with workload.

“But the view which we always took is 'what is it we need distinctively to do in our school which is going to help teachers to focus on the things that matter?' 

"I probably wouldn’t have ticked the box very successfully of having done everything I was told to do from the centre."

Those who said that their school had evaluated staff workload were asked what impact it had made on the hours they worked.

More than half (57 per cent) said that it had made no difference at all, while 32 per cent felt it had made a difference of up to two hours per week. Only 8 per cent thought it made a difference of more than two hours per week. 

A larger proportion of classroom teachers (67 per cent) than senior leaders (52 per cent) said it had made no difference to the hours they worked.

Phase was also a factor influencing responses, with 63 per cent of secondary school respondents saying it had made no difference but only 51 per cent of those in primary schools. 

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