'How can we cut workload? Kill perfectionism'

At the start of the new school year, one seasoned headteacher sets out a vision to reduce teacher workload

Colin Harris

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The excitement of each new year is often tinged with memories of things that did not go so well in the previous. These are things that, if not quickly addressed, can dominate a teacher's thinking for the year.

I’d bet you a penny for a pound that for most teacher approaching the start of term right now, that issue will be workload.

What can teachers do to change things up, to stop the sheer volume of work overwhelming them as in previous years?

My first piece of advice is that many of the solutions can be found within teachers themselves. Even with the most understanding of management teams, there will always be a lot of work for teachers to do. The issue lies in how these jobs are tackled.

So here are some thoughts from an old warhorse: a few ideas you can consider. It’s worth remembering that the simple remedies are often the best, and that if you can manage to achieve a better work-life balance, both your family and your pupils will experience a “better version of you”.

Ways to cut teacher workload

Here goes…

  • Firstly prioritise. Base prioritisation on importance and urgency but also the recognition that too many jobs just do not need to be done. Don’t do them.
  • Establish strong rules about the times you are going to be in school and how much time you are prepared to spend doing school work at home. Marking or planning until midnight is of no use to anyone.
  • Try to have an early night at least once a week – and be proud of it.
  • Stop taking any pride at being the first in school or the last out.
  • Have a life outside of school. This is essential. For too many modern teachers, there is no time for a social life – and little time for family life – during term.
  • Make sure you have a lunch break. The only person who suffers when you work through your breaks is you.
  • "To do" list are wonderful, but this year make them realistic
  • Stop over-planning lessons. The best lessons are, of course, well-planned but allow for some spontaneity
  • Use peer assessment from day one, so it becomes entrenched into the class. Too much marking carries a government health warning.
  • Don't forget that no one is too old to ask for help.

"All very laudable," you may say, "but it doesn’t reflect the reality of life in schools." However, as teachers and as a profession, we need to tackle this issue head-on.

So how about this as mantra for us all to attempt to live by? We all need to recognise when things are 'good enough' and stop continually striving for perfection.

Enjoy the new year, folks.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were 'outstanding' across all categories

To read more of Colin's articles, visit his back catalogue

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