Follow the paperwork trail to time-poor teachers

1st December 2017 at 00:00
Workload really is an issue and it’s turning the profession into a mug’s game, says one primary teacher

I need some extra time. For the average teacher, 24 hours in the day will never be enough.

We’re at that point in the year again where shortening days and shortening tempers run up against lengthening to-do lists. Everything is a permanent race against the clock and, as full throttle is the only speed option left, anything slower comes as a personal insult. Watching my daughter linger over her cereal is physically painful, queues at the supermarket bring me out in a cold sweat, red traffic lights make my blood pressure rocket.

You get to the point where you resent anything that steals time from working. Marking, filling in behaviour logs, completing provision maps, sorting out Christmas scripts, more marking, writing subject plans and policies, lesson planning. These – among other things – are what I should be doing every minute of every day. They are all due immediately. And I don’t even work full time.

Workload really is an issue. I once realised I had to leave a school the day I found myself getting annoyed with the cleaner for talking to me while I was trying to mark. She was telling me about her daughter’s death from cancer.

But even if you want to take back control of workload, how exactly do you do that? It’s all very well people saying, “Have a cut-off point and what doesn’t get done, doesn’t get done,” but what if it all needs to be done? I can’t cut-off before the data the headteacher needs for tomorrow’s governor meeting is complete. I can’t skip writing the trip letter because it has to go home tomorrow. I’m doing all I can to “work smart”: I’m recycling old planning, I’m eating lunch while I mark, I’m buying two-in-one shampoo and conditioner. But none of it is enough.

The exasperating truth

Nobody deliberately piles pressure on anyone else, but people regularly rise before 5am to catch up on paperwork and leave long after dark carrying laptops and files. The exasperating truth is, you could take away 80 per cent of these paperwork tasks and our performance in the classroom would be unchanged. In fact, it would almost certainly be better.

I’ve always argued against people who tell me teaching’s a mug’s game. It’s a battle, but the benefits edge out the downsides. At the moment, I’m not so sure. People I know in other jobs get bonuses, toilet breaks at a time of their choosing and the chance to walk away at the end of the day.

Teachers have to consistently raise attainment in a landscape filled with reform. Along the way, we must also erase mental health problems, instil confidence, combat obesity and close the gap on social mobility.

For this, the government have signalled their gratitude by announcing that, for the seventh year running, teacher pay will remain frozen. Maybe it is a mug’s game after all.

Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym for a primary teacher in the Midlands. She tweets @jo_brighouse

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