Trimming the fat from your college and your workload

12th February 2016 at 00:00
Apply ‘lean thinking’ principles to your teaching practice to deliver better results amid meaner budgets

The past few years have seen FE colleges investing in new facilities and other flavour-of-the-month initiatives as a way of entering alternative markets and attracting profitable contracts. Is it any wonder that the vision of increased student numbers and a wider reach within the community is failing to deliver profit, when so much time and effort is wasted in the teaching and assessment process?

With mergers and collaborations on the horizon as FE funding levels are cut further, practitioners and managers should begin by asking this honest question: are they doing all that they can to deal with the inefficiencies inherent in the day-to-day conducting of their individual workloads?

The solution lies in marking a clear differentiation between value-added and non-valueadded activities. If the latter is the most prevalent, then somewhere along the line the profitable output is being sabotaged. Any activity that aids this inequality should be eliminated. For herein lies waste – of time, of effort and of individual potential.

The principle of “Lean Thinking” is a method of focusing on non-value-added activities in any process – the aim being to discover the hours of wasted activity that are disguised as productivity. Lean thinking is about becoming acutely aware of this time, so that it can then be used for value-added tasks only – the tasks that bring positive outcomes to practitioners, customers, the business as a whole, and of course, the bottom line.

Be good to yourself

From a practitioner’s perspective, non-value-added activities can be found in the overprocessing of work; that is, in doing more than what is necessary to satisfy an outcome. This is particularly evident in the assessment process, where a number of individual teachers are assessing the same content within different units due to a lack of collaboration between subject teams. This can be traced back to poor planning within the curriculum. Instead of practitioners just getting on and delivering their own content, they should be visually mapping the integration of units as a course team to avoid over assessment and then displaying this visual tool so that everyone has a clear understanding of who is doing what and when.

This visual map can then be used to create an assessment plan for learners, ensuring that they are not overloaded with assessments at key points in the academic calendar. This will increase their satisfaction with learning, too (which translates to added value).

Forms over function

Inefficiencies can also be prevalent in the assessment feedback process, with standardised paperwork having a tendency to be vague and long-winded, just so that it ticks the right box. This adds no value to the learner or the actual process of assessment. The aim of feedback is that it is fair, concise, consistent and at a level that the learner can both understand and use as an improvement tool. Anything that detracts from this, even if it is something that looks good to an observer, is a waste of effort. Staff will be filling in unnecessary forms when their time could be better spent elsewhere.

The imbalance of work activities also leads to inefficiencies in the teaching and assessment process, causing some staff to become overburdened and, therefore, not wholly focused on the tasks at hand.

Contracts are standardised, with a full-time teaching contract requiring 24 hours contact time per week. However, much more effort is required in the teaching and assessment of level four and five than it is at the lower levels, so the discrepancies in workload should be investigated and clearly understood. Staff who lack morale and enthusiasm due to feeling overburdened are more likely to make mistakes than those whose workload is manageable. These errors eventually lead to non-value-added activities, since somewhere along the process, mistakes need to be rectified.

Lean thinking is a cultural shift, one that breaks actual work activities down into its individual components to assess whether it is adding value to the end result or detracting from it. The underlying goal is to eliminate waste at every stage possible. It is a low-risk process that can begin with an individual.

Joanne St Clair is an associate lecturer in engineering with 18 years’ experience of teaching in further and higher education

Adding value at every turn

To lay the foundation for Lean Thinking in the teaching and assessment process, start by recognising waste inherent in every day, personal tasks. The way to do this is as follows:

Create a five-day timetable

For each day, list the activity undertaken and the time to completion

Mark if the activity is VA (value-added) or NVA (non-value-added)

Calculate total weekly hours and percentage of time allocated to both VA and NVA tasks

Eliminate the NVA tasks as much as possible

Evaluate and repeat.

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