You would have to be living under a rock not to have noticed that teaching has a workload problem.
The 2017 Department for Education workload survey found that classroom teachers and middle leaders work an average of 54.4 hours a week, while senior leaders average 60 hours. Workload was also widely recognised as the major cause of teachers leaving the profession.
The results of this survey were on my mind as I returned to school after the Christmas break. As I looked around the staffroom, I was struck by the difference a fortnight off had made to the demeanour and energy of my team.
I wanted to bottle the positive, post-holiday fizz for as much of the new term as possible, so I resolved to do what I could to support a better work-life balance for my staff.
Headteachers are not to blame for the problems around workload, but they do have a role to play in lessening them.
While I am realistic enough to know that I am not capable of delivering a workload paradise, I know that if I can take small steps to improve things for staff, our pupils will reap the rewards.
Here is my six-point plan for managing workload going forward.
1. Promote collaborative working
Many issues surrounding workload relate to tasks that demand fine detail and/or duplication, such as planning a new scheme of work. Counter this by getting your teaching staff to unite around a pledge to work collaboratively.
Rather than staff labouring under a heavy burden in isolation, find ways for them to work together. For example, divide up the planning for a year group, with each teacher taking responsibility for planning a unit of work.
2. Let staff own their teaching
Look for ways to make members of your team feel in control of their classroom practice by promoting individual ownership of each lesson taught. Resist highly prescriptive approaches to lesson delivery. By providing staff with the space and flexibility to approach their teaching with autonomy, you will alleviate the pressure associated with always having to “perform”. While classroom consistency is an important consideration, don’t let it be at the cost of professional individuality.
3. Support professional growth
Make time to engage with your staff as individual practitioners and tap into what attracted them to the profession in the first place. Support them to reconnect with an aspect of teaching and learning that gave them a buzz as a new teacher and use that as a mainline for connecting them to new developments in pedagogical thought.
By finding the space to better understand what motivates your team, you will be able to stimulate opportunities for them to engage in areas of continuing professional development that resonate. This will take a bit of extra time and effort on your part, but harnessing your teachers’ passions will allow you to capitalise on the benefits of a culture of professional support and help you to achieve the wider aims of your school in the process.
4. Find your feedback balance
One of the most important things you can do to reduce workload as a headteacher is to commit to an honest review of your feedback policy. Reflect on what you really want the pupils in your school to get from the feedback they receive, and use your conclusions to review your expectations for written feedback. Consider how the time invested in written feedback results in dividends for learners. And don’t be afraid to make changes in your policy if you begin to feel that things aren’t quite adding up.
5. Make your policies work for you
Your marking policy is not the only one that might need to change. Policy review is an integral part of every headteacher’s job and will undoubtedly happen regularly. But, as a part of this process, are you considering how hard your policies are working for your staff?
School policies should provide a scaffold of support for teachers by ensuring that procedures are clear and straightforward. When coherent policies that make your expectations clear are enforced consistently across the school, there should be a reduction in time spent troubleshooting because all stakeholders will know exactly what action needs to be taken, when and by whom.
6. Promote a weekly time-out
Explicitly encourage every member of staff to ring-fence some time for themselves each week, whether that means leaving school earlier one afternoon, setting a cut-off time for checking emails each evening or pledging to stop marking at home. Promoting a weekly chunk of “me” time can quickly become part of a team culture and you will soon start to notice the difference. Staff who are energised and refreshed will be easy to spot in the classroom.
Claire Boyd is head of junior school at Sydenham High School in London