'To retain our best teachers we need to stop killing them with planning, marking and meetings'

All schools should follow my simple four-point plan to tackle the teacher workload crisis, writes one educationist

Colin Harris

News article image

Just about every teacher will recognise the sad truth: they are working longer and longer hours week after week. (It would appear that this is now recognised by the Department for Education, too).

The most profound question to address is whether these extra hours spent in the school are actually improving the quality of teaching and learning. Sadly, it would seem, this is not the case.

It is rather more likely that we are spending endless hours perfuming menial tasks because that's just what is expected of us...

Therefore, is it possible to come up with a simple strategy that can be adopted by all schools that would allow the question of working hours and, of course, work-life balance to be addressed.

There are four keys areas that all leaders and governors need to look at. By tackling these areas, we may be allowed to return teachers to the job they actually enjoy doing – teaching. The school will need to act as a team and come up with a consistent and achievable approach in each of these areas.

Four areas that influence workload

So what are the four areas?

Firstly, every school needs to know the direction it is going in, and this needs to be understood by every member of staff. So much time is wasted because this is not explained well, or is replicated or just not understood. Whatever direction a school moves in must be clearly understood and well-paced out. Umpteen experts in your classroom every day does not improve you as a teacher. Communication does. Plus, improvement does not occur when the school continually changes its mind.

Secondly, there is a need to radically review the planning and assessment policies in the school. Planning and assessment needs to be radically reduced. So much time is wasted on the plan. How can a plan take longer to produce than the actual lesson?

Assessment as a tool has now become a straitjacket. Expensive systems have been brought in under which it takes hours to input the data, and for what? Are we better for it? Do we know more? After all, as soon as the data is inputted, it's out of date. There is a place for it but not when it takes so long to produce. Again, the simple methods are the best, and what about other clerically based staff inputting the data rather than wasting teachers' time?

Thirdly, how we mark children's work. Marking should never be for the benefit of the senior staff or the parents. It's to move children's work forward. And so the best marking is carried out alongside the pupil, talking and discussing with them. Taking books home nightly for a three-hour chore is not the way forward, and parents need to be shown this by the school.

Lastly, the pointless meetings. They should be restricted to just two evenings a week and their relevance needs to be recognised. Senior staff need to realise that after six hours in the classroom, "immediately after school" is often the wrong time for a meeting.

My four-point plan is, obviously, simplistic, but every school needs to address these areas.

The recruitment crisis is, of course, very important but retention of quality teachers is even more so. To retain our best we need to ensure that we are not killing them with planning, marking and meetings.

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

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

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow TES on Twitter and like TES on Facebook

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Latest stories


A Level and GCSE results LIVE

Keep up with all emerging news, reaction and comment on an unprecedented year for GCSE and A Level results, covering everything from calculated grades to the triple lock.
Tes Reporter 14 Aug 2020