Former Monty Python star Terry Jones has joined bestselling authors Sir Michael Holroyd and Michael Rosen in condemning the workload for teachers created by "political interference" in education and “an increasingly irrational and punitive system of inspection”.
The three authors join more than 300 others, including academics and teachers, in signing an open letter to education secretary Nicky Morgan and schools minister Nick Gibb. It was organised by author and former teacher Alan Gibbons who felt compelled to act after seeing "good teachers in tears in the staffroom".
The letter states: "A recent YouGov poll suggested that 53 per cent of teachers are thinking of quitting in the next couple of years. The top reasons given were 'volume of workload' (61 per cent) and 'seeking a better work/life balance' (57 per cent).
“We, the undersigned, believe that enthusiastic, confident teachers, with a long-term commitment to education, are essential to children’s development, so these figures are deeply disturbing to us.
“Worse, though, are the reports that this workload isn't driven by preparing exciting lessons for children but by demands for 'evidence' and 'data' arising from an increasingly irrational and punitive system of inspection and from constant political interference in curriculum and assessment. We are concerned that these excessive burdens are demoralising staff who want to do their very best for the pupils in their care.
“We appeal to secretary of state for education Nicky Morgan and schools minister Nick Gibb to turn their focus away from turning all our schools into academies and instead to look urgently at the core issues and reform inspection and accountability so that teachers can devote their energies to teaching and learning.”
Mr Gibbons told TES: "I do 150 to 180 school visits a year and very recently I have begun to see good teachers in tears in the staffroom and not about the various challenges of an extremely tough job but over the level of paperwork.
"Paperwork is not now an aid to supporting teaching and learning but a Frankenstein's monster taking over the whole of education. I don't want to sit there saying look at all those teachers leaving – I want teachers to have the same enthusiasm as I had when I was a teacher."
Ms Morgan announced a Workload Challenge last year via the TES website, calling for ideas from the profession on how to lift burdens on teachers.
It came after the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found that teachers in England worked longer hours than those in any other country – 48 hours a week on average, with one in 10 doing 65 hours or more. The study also revealed that teachers spent less time in the classroom than elsewhere, with the hours instead being spent on administrative tasks, producing lesson plans and marking.
The call for ideas from the profession prompted 44,000 responses. The government proposals included putting a stop to major changes to Ofsted inspections or government policy during the academic year “except when absolutely necessary”.
But leaders of five teaching unions were unhappy with the government’s response. They wrote to the education secretary and Nick Clegg, then deputy prime minister, earlier this year to say that the government’s workload action plan did not do enough to address concerns around Ofsted and was a “missed opportunity”.
A DfE spokesperson said: "We recognise that unnecessary workload is one of the biggest frustrations for the profession which is why we are working with leading education to tackle issues like marking, lesson planning or expectations around inspections."