Ofsted must hold schools accountable for teachers’ wellbeing to make a real difference to their excessive workload, government advisers have told TES.
One suggested that teachers could help the inspectorate to make these judgements by providing anonymous reviews of schools when they moved jobs.
“I would propose some sort of national system where, whenever a teacher leaves a job, they leave a write-up on a national database detailing the answers to questions on why they’re leaving,” said David Didau, a member of the marking workload review group. “So, if there was cause for concern, an inspector could have a look at that information and say that there’s a bit of a pattern.”
On Saturday, the three government-appointed review groups on marking, data management, and planning and resources published their recommendations for reducing teacher workload (see box, opposite).
Their findings were accepted in full by ministers and given a cautious welcome by teaching unions. But members of the review groups have suggested that really tackling workload would require Ofsted to make a new judgement when it inspects schools.
“One of the levers that I think would make this successful is to have teacher wellbeing as something schools are held accountable for,” Mr Didau, a teaching consultant and blogger, said. “As a starting point, schools would have to account [to Ofsted] for their turnover. Say 25 members of staff have left – is that all down to random chance or have they all decided to leave because they’ve burned out?”
Matthew Stevenson, a member of the data management review group, suggested that Ofsted should introduce a new teacher wellbeing judgement “on a trial basis to gauge the impact it has”.
Last week, Sam Freedman, an adviser to Michael Gove when he was education secretary, reached a similar conclusion. “Ofsted needs to go further and actively penalise schools that create unsustainable working conditions,” the executive director of programmes at Teach First wrote in TES.
The review group reports do include recommendations for Ofsted. But they are confined to specific areas such as ensuring that there are no particular expectations of marking practice from inspectors.
Mr Stevenson, assistant head at Henbury School, a Bristol secondary, does have some reservations about the introduction of a broader workload and wellbeing judgement.
“It could become another hoop that schools have to jump through,” he said. “There are so many myths around Ofsted – there will be myths about what you have to do as a school to pass the workload test.”
Teaching unions are also concerned about how much difference the review groups’ recommendations will make in practice.
NUT general secretary Christine Blower said that if ministers “really wanted to reduce workload” they should set a target for the number of hours teachers worked, like the 35-hour week in Scottish teachers’ contracts.
“They said that they didn’t want a target because this was down to what heads and schools would decide in their own institutions,” Ms Blower said. “I think that suggests that if there are good things in this guidance then there may very well be schools that follow it and there may be ones that don’t. So we will still be left with some schools where there is a problem.”
On Saturday, delegates at her union’s annual conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of using “sustained strike action” in schools where teacher workload was a problem.
Recent surveys by the NUT show that teachers’ workload has gone up since the Workload Challenge was launched in 2014.
Amanda Brown, the union’s assistant general secretary for advice, policy and campaigns, told TES that the workload problem could stretch beyond the areas that were covered by the review groups.
“These were three particular subjects,” she said. “There may be other ways in which workload will raise its head again, so we think it’s an ongoing process.”
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, warned Nicky Morgan about the extent of teacher workload when the education secretary announced the review groups’ reports at the union’s conference in Birmingham on Saturday.
“A good start was that you have been prepared to acknowledge that there is a problem with workload,” Ms Keates said. But she added: “Teachers are being crushed by workload physically and mentally.”
Mr Didau said that an Ofsted judgement on teacher wellbeing would ensure that schools, which are beset by other accountability pressures, actually implemented the review groups’ findings.
“If you’re saying to school leaders, ‘We’d like you to have a more measured approach to teacher workload, but at the same time we’re going to hold you to account for results,’ where’s the incentive?” he said. “You can’t rely on the milk of human kindness to see through needed reforms.”
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “When carrying out an inspection, inspectors will assess how well leaders and managers support and motivate teaching staff and promote their continuing professional development.
“Inspectors have a duty to take the views of staff, including teachers, into account during an inspection. They will also report on whether there have been key staff changes since the last inspection.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Unnecessary workload is one of the biggest frustrations for teachers. We are doing more than ever to tackle this by publishing the results of the three workload review groups…and accepting all their recommendations.”
What the workload review groups said
Recommendations from the teacher workload review groups include:
Teachers should consider the use of externally produced and quality-assured resources, such as textbooks or teacher guides, and move away from a bias against them.
More school staff should engage in collaborative planning rather than individual planning.
Initial teacher training (ITT)providers should review their demands on trainee teachers.
Teachers should use “professional judgement” to decide how best to mark pupils’ work.
All marking should be “meaningful, manageable and motivating”.
Teachers should not be rewarded for “gold plating” (the process of collecting all data “just in case”) as it is both “dangerous” and “unnecessary”.
Staff should not be asked for or duplicate data already collected elsewhere.
For a more comprehensive list, see bit.ly/TESworkload