Killing Workload: how schools can save 20 hours of teacher time per week, every week, starting tomorrow

A teacher’s time is sacrosanct, and one teacher-writer believes he has the solutions to reducing workload

Thomas Rogers

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1. Introduce a departmental or whole school detention system

Context: The process of issuing and administering a detention can be hellish. It might involve; printing some kind of reminder for a student and finding the appropriate member of staff in school so it can be distributed to the student; finding an appropriate time for the detention to take place; giving up a break or lunchtime that could be used for something else; figuring out what the said students will do during the detention; supervising the detention and managing any misbehaviour; chasing up students who don’t turn up (possibly the most time consuming part of all) with yet more printed reminders or perhaps finding the location of the said student using SIMS and paying them a visit during your planning, preparation and assessment time.

Time used: perhaps between one and three hours a week for new teachers, less for the more experienced.

Solution: As teachers are the most valuable resource, detentions could be run by members of the leadership team and even support staff where appropriate. These would be on a set timetable. During lessons, a classroom teacher would simply click the student's name on the register, enter a short description of why the detention has been issued, and with that, the responsibility for all of the above is taken unashamedly out of the teachers hands (unless they specifically request that it isn’t).

The only time the teacher will hear of it again is a confirmation email confirming that the student has completed the detention and any accompanying work. It’s not lazy to suggest that this should be the norm. This is all about making sure that a teacher’s time is sacrosanct. Cash in the time saved for teaching and learning.

2. Don’t mark books

Context: Assessment and marking have become a monster in schools. This would be all well and good if there was evidence that it had a truly definable impact based on the amount of time it takes. The lines between feedback and evidencing have become blurred to the point where it’s hard to distinguish. Even the Sutton Trust has recently made clear that much of the in vogue marking and assessment crazes of the last five to ten years have been outrageously misguided and increased the risk of burnout in staff who are desperate to do well and tick all the boxes.

Time used: between 5 and 10 hours a week

Solution: This one is simple: stop marking. Feedback can be effectively given in a whole variety of ways, most notably, verbally. Cut out green pens, triple marking, deep marking and other associated gimmickry and see what happens to results and teacher wellbeing.

3. Scrap all forms of observation (unless concerns are raised) and work scrutiny

Context: Although the trend is to move away from one-off observations in favour of learning walks and book scrutiny, accountability in all its forms still remains incessant across the UK. But for what end?

Currently, the main driver is evidence rather than impact and with recent proclamations from Ofsted along the lines of “teach how you want”, there has probably never been a better time to be radical and let teachers get on with it. Senior leaders and middle leaders spend hours every week not only performing observations but recording the results.

Time used: variable but anywhere between half an hour and three hours a week

Solution: If you feel a bit naked without vast reams of performance management paperwork, worry not, because whatever Ofsted say, they are really only interested in attainment and progress at the end of the day. They might gush over the incredible character of students but this will be a smokescreen for the inevitable judgement based on the data.

So, you can either spend 50 per cent of your time producing paperwork which will have little impact on that judgement either way, or use that time to focus on other stuff. Perhaps managers can use the time they save covering the odd lesson for classroom teachers? Perhaps they can write, audit and adjust schemes of work? Or, they could just sit in the office and smoke a cigar, knowing that the teachers are delighted that they no longer have to constantly look over their shoulder.

4. Promote instructional delivery

Context: Instructional delivery isn’t as fancy as it sounds: think colourful chalk and talk. There is nothing monumentally radical about it. I wrote about my own journey of pedagogical discovery here.

The proponents of instructional teaching proclaim it’s just a reassertion of the proper role of the teacher. I struggle to argue with them. Ofsted's early/mid 2000 obsession with limiting “teacher talk” to no more than 20 per cent of the lesson took its toll on quality teaching and learning. Thankfully, that “policy” has been consigned to the dustbin of history. Teachers are now told to “teach how they want to”. Take advantage.

Time used: Planning “groovy” lessons takes a lot of time - anywhere between two and five hours a week.

Solution: Place good textbooks back on the plinth they belong. Place the knowledge of the teacher at the forefront of teaching and learning. Understand that lessons can be full of variety but as long as “they work”, that’s what matters. Place the importance of long term curriculum planning over short term lesson by lesson planning.

Give teachers the flexibility to follow their professional judgement. That’s what they are trained for, after all.

Thomas Rogers is a teacher who runs and tweets at @RogersHistory

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Thomas Rogers

Thomas Rogers is a history teacher

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