'Solving the teacher workload crisis is simple: heads must learn to avoid all the unnecessary initiatives'

3rd March 2016 at 11:48
Teacher workload
One teacher believes her school has discovered the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: a simple solution to the epidemic of school staff working excessive hours

A teacher's time on the job is divided into two categories: contact time and non-contact time. Contact time is classified as the time teachers spend teaching their pupils; non-contact time consists of the time teachers spend not teaching, when they are instead planning, marking, resourcing, inputting data, dealing with behaviour. The list feels never-ending.

Concerns around teacher workload are predominant in the education debate. These concerns are valid but we need to get to the rub: if we want to deal with the problems around teacher workload then we need to deal with the causes of it: unnecessary work consuming teachers' non-contact hours.

Too often we hear from non-teachers that we are "lucky to be able to rock up to school at 8am and rush out around 3.30pm, 4pm at the latest". When, of course, we know that the reality is that a large proportion of teachers work on average 12-hour days because of the amount of labour required in their non-contact hours.

Lessons are planned. Books are marked. Exam papers are sorted. Meetings are conducted. Parents are called. Data is inputted. This all happens outside of teachers' contact time. All the time teacher workload grows, seemingly inevitably, taking over evenings, weekends and holidays.

The fact is that some of the tasks are necessary and some are not.

Categorising tasks into the sub-headings of "necessary" and "unnecessary" should be the job of senior leaders in a school. Their mantra to their staffroom ought to be: "Complete the tasks that impact on pupils' learning. Don't do the tasks that don't."

Could the solution to the growing teacher workload crisis really be that simple? I am convinced that it is. If we are going to stop the haemorrhaging of teachers from the profession we must get a change in the mindset of school leaders.

This mindset change must be twofold: first, senior leadership teams must prioritise staff wellbeing by considering the implications of initiatives on staff work-life balance before implementation; second, SLTs must consider the input/output ratio of teacher effort, determining whether the impact on pupils from such effort is marginal or significant.

A change of mindset for managers

At Michaela Community School, where I teach, our SLT have this mindset, and as a result of it staff feel valued and appreciated.

Similar to the situation in other professions, it is vital to ensure that managers are taking care of their staff by valuing work-life balance, and evaluating initiatives, before implementation, in a manner which takes into consideration the ratio of input of non-contact teacher time to the output in terms of the benefits to pupils and teachers.

Our principal, Katharine Birbalsingh, and her team always ask: If I implement this initiative, how much of teachers' time will it require? How much will it benefit the pupils and teachers if we pursue it?

At Michaela, I feel as if teachers are valued because they are the most valuable asset in the school: we are invaluable to the kids that we teach. The SLT at Michaela wholeheartedly believe this, and it is evident in every decision made because they consider the impact these decisions will have on teacher work-life balance.

The reality is that all teacher time is finite, and teachers have family and friends too.

Management of any organisation has the power to control the implications of initiatives implemented on their employees if they thoroughly evaluate the initiative in question. This thorough evaluation before implementation is the mindset change for school leaders I am talking about.

I am not suggesting that all time-consuming initiatives introduced by SLT members in schools are causing a rise in teacher workload. Some are necessary, important, and have a positive impact on teachers and pupils' learning. But others are unnecessary, demand far too much of teachers' non-contact time and make work-life balance for staff impossible to maintain.

The solution to teacher workload is there, and it is working at Michaela Community School.

Naveen Rizvi is a maths teacher at Michaela Community School in North-West London

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