'Ofsted's framework asks way too much of primary staff'

The inspectorate's reforms – whether intentionally or not – are driving a fresh epidemic in workload, writes one union leader

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Let’s start with the good news. The latest teacher workload survey shows that there has been a modest reduction in teacher and school leader working hours. On average, teachers are reporting a decrease of just under four hours in their working week – from over 56 to just under 53 hours a week.

Any reduction in working hours for teachers and leaders is welcome. It is good that the government has undoubtedly made teacher workload a priority – across the Department for Education, all policies now have to be interrogated for their workload implications. This is a much-needed focus, but it is premature for them to claim victory.

The DfE working groups on data collection, planning and marking have produced guidance on reducing workload. It appears that their recommendations have been taken up by school leaders who are acutely aware that if their teachers leave the profession because of excessive work, they will be very difficult to replace.

The reduction in teacher working hours shows us that change is possible.  If some schools can reduce teacher workload, why not all?

School leadership teams, in every school, should be doing everything possible to support teachers in managing a good work-life balance. Top of school leaders’ concerns should be the realisation that teachers’ working hours are not infinitely expandable.

Instead, everyone should recognise that teachers are the most precious resource in our education system and that their time and professional expertise should be wisely used. Everyone should recognise that exhausted teachers, at the end of their tether, are not a good advertisement for the profession. 

Everyone concerned for our education system, from government ministers to parents, should all ask themselves why so many teachers tell their children not to enter the profession and why nearly 40 per cent of teachers leave within five years of qualification, driven out by the stress of excessive workload.

And Ofsted should ask itself the following question. What is it going to do to respond to the outcry amongst primary teachers about the impact of its new inspection framework on their workload? 

The NEU teaching union is being inundated with reports from our primary teacher members about the demands being placed on them as the new inspection framework is being rolled out.

Particularly concerning are the reports of teachers who are curriculum leads while teaching on full timetables and with no teaching and learning responsibility payments.

We are overwhelmed with reports of these teachers being required to complete masses of paperwork to document the intent, implementation and impact of the curriculum area they, without any time or management responsibility, are required to lead.

Reports from primary schools that have been inspected, and those preparing for inspection, highlight concerns that teachers being asked about the quality of teaching across the school, in the subject they are leading. 

No one seems to have noticed the bleeding obvious – that these teachers have no time to observe their colleagues teaching. Moreover, they have no authority to assess the standard of their colleagues’ work. They have no time, or authority, to monitor their colleagues’ planning and assessment.

Nor do they want to. If they do not have a TLR payment, they are not part of the school’s management team.

This simple fact seems to have escaped Ofsted.  The new inspection framework has clearly been designed with secondary school management structures, and resources, in mind.

Even more worrying is the fact that Ofsted inspectors are doing deep dives into subjects and age phases they have never taught and in which they have no subject expertise. 

And this comes back to Ofsted’s Achilles heel – the variable quality of their inspection teams.  The reason that so many schools are now drowning under a fresh tsunami of Ofsted preparation work is that school leaders cannot be confident in the quality of the inspection team which comes through their school gate.

So, they require teachers to protect themselves, and their school, in paperwork.

I am being sent examples of the form filling that is now an industry in schools across England, requiring teachers who are curriculum leads – to  be responsible for how other teachers in their school are building on prior learning; how other teachers are not covering things that children have already learned; whether other teachers know what and when to teach objectives and what evidence is there of this? Whether other teachers teaching is consistent across the school? How useful are the records that other teachers are keeping? How are other teachers broadening their teaching and developing mastery? How do they know that the children in other teachers’ classes are developing a deep understanding?

I get furious when I get sent these examples (and I am being sent a lot of them).

I will now anticipate Ofsted’s response. Ofsted will say that it does not want teachers to be doing this work. It has not asked teachers to do this work and its inspectors will not require this work during inspections.

The problem is very few school leaders and teachers believe Ofsted. They know that Ofsted’s ‘myths’ can all be traced back to previous Ofsted requirements.  And, given the devastating consequences of an adverse Ofsted inspection judgement, they will continue with a belt and braces approach.

The fact of the matter, and the tragedy for schools, is that Ofsted has embarked on a fantastical journey of re-invention – away from the data that previously was its be-all and end-all, to a resolute refusal to examine data and a fantasy that it has the resources and the expertise to become a curriculum regulation (rather than quality of education) inspectorate.

And on that misjudgement will lie, I predict, a significant rise in teacher working hours, threatening to destroy any modest gains that they have worked so hard to achieve.

Mary Bousted is joint general secretary of the NEU

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