Shield staff from Ofsted pressure, headteachers told

19th December 2014 at 00:00
Minister laments burden placed on teachers in TES webchat

Headteachers must stop piling more work on teachers in a bid to please Ofsted inspectors, schools minister David Laws warned this week.

His comments were made during a live TES webchat on the subject of workload, in which he said that the main areas of concern for teachers were the accountability regime and the scale of government reforms.

Since the coalition took power more than four years ago, the Department for Education's relationship with the teaching profession has been somewhat fractious. Many changes have been introduced, including a new curriculum and a revamped exam system. But now the DfE has launched a campaign to cut excessive overtime.

Ofsted has repeatedly been identified by teachers and school leaders as one of the biggest contributors to workload. Mr Laws said the watchdog needed to make inspections less onerous, but he also criticised headteachers for creating extra work by trying to second-guess what inspectors wanted to see.

"Firstly, we need to make sure the targeting of inspections is proportional to the challenges in schools," the Liberal Democrat minister said. "Secondly, we must avoid the burden sometimes placed on teachers by headteachers who may think they have to follow whatever methods have been praised by Ofsted in other schools."

He added: "We strongly support the work that Ofsted does, but we must help to address some of the misconceptions about what Ofsted wants to see, which can lead to gold-plating."

But Mr Laws disagreed with the idea that teachers should be paid overtime for working longer hours, claiming that this would create an unnecessary level of bureaucracy. "What teachers are telling us is that they would rather work fewer hours and be able to concentrate on what matters: helping pupils," he said.

Tony Draper, headteacher of Water Hall Primary School in Milton Keynes, said there was some truth to the minister's comments, but added that headteachers felt under pressure to react to Ofsted's requirements.

"There is certainly something in the fact that some headteachers who feel they are under the cosh will look through the Ofsted framework and try to interpret what it is that Ofsted wants. It could be that [Ofsted] is asking for a range of things, when only a few might be important," Mr Draper said.

Too often, he added, headteachers increased teachers' marking load in order to show progress to inspectors.

"If you're driving your staff into the ground asking them to mark everything, then that will impact on students' learning. But they have to change the way Ofsted operates because it is still seen as too punitive among heads."

In a bid to reduce teachers' workload, education secretary Nicky Morgan launched the Workload Challenge in October. The survey aimed to find out why England had some of the highest working hours for teachers in the developed world.

The survey received more than 43,000 responses - a record for a DfE consultation. But despite the huge amount of data to consider, Ms Morgan pledged earlier this week that an "action plan" based on the recommendations would be published in January.

Speaking during a DfE phone-in on Monday, she said a panel of experts would consider each of the submissions before setting out a course of action in the new year. "And by new year, I mean January," she added.

Read the webchat

Find the webchat, in which David Laws talks to teachers about the workload crisis, at www.tesconnect.comDavid-Laws


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