The solution to the teacher workload crisis? Hire more admin staff

14th May 2017 at 10:01
One teacher argues that an increase in support staff could solve the recruitment and retention crisis in schools and colleges

“It's time to play the music. It’s time to light the lights. It’s time to raise the curtains on The Muppet Show tonight.”

It can feel that way preparing for a lesson. I bet, however, that Miss Piggy had someone to play the music, light the lights and raise the curtains for her. For teachers, it’s up to them to plan, prepare and teach the lesson – then reflect on, mark the work from and fill in the paperwork for the lesson.

While they want to be the most sensational and inspirational, there’s no help backstage. This needs to change. The paperwork and planning are unlikely to decrease, so how about some help with them?

The seemingly ever-changing government guidelines and policies put increasing pressure on an already stretched FE sector. It feels like a shower of pointless paperwork pouring down from government to principals to management until it’s finally dumped on teachers.

Sharing the load

We all know the drill – there’s not enough time for planning and preparation because of additional paperwork. It seems unlikely things will improve for teachers under the current government. So if paperwork is not going away, administrative help must be increased instead.

From my first teaching job I couldn’t understand why there were not more administrative staff. Working at summer school for an English as a foreign language department, most teachers were planning six hours of lessons every night to teach the next day.

Having come from a legal secretarial background, it seemed odd to me that teachers were expected to do admin tasks that could be delegated to others, leaving the teachers to do what they were qualified to do.

I’ve worked in document management departments in law firms. Lawyers would leave work with a coversheet detailing what needed to be done and when it was needed. As a team we prioritised according to urgency and shared the work. We created PowerPoint presentations, set up and managed Excel spreadsheets, reformatted Word documents, proofread, data inputted and transcribed dictation.

Something similar within FE could be transformative to a teacher’s workload. Many teachers are trying to complete admin tasks in the short breaks between lessons. By the time they’ve logged onto the right program and found the right student, it’s time to go back to class or do something equally as urgent. It would be much better time management to have staff that could input student data.

Teacher training rarely covers how to excel at Excel or do the perfect PowerPoint presentation. Teachers may know exactly what they want their presentation to look like but don’t have the skills to make it look that way. If they could explain or draw a brief outline for someone who knew what they were doing, their time could be much better spent elsewhere.

We have all this new technology but are not using it to its full advantage. Imagine the time saved by a teacher using a dictaphone app on their phone to record things like student profiles and reports, who then emails them to admin staff to transcribe and input. Imagine teachers simply leaving a copy of their latest homework or test marks and having someone input them on the correct program.

This is an edited version of an article in the 12 May edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Your new-look Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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