When headlines about workload appeared last week, many people will have been delighted. It seemed that local organisations had finally decided that workload was an issue and something needed to be done. As it is so often, however, it can be tempting to do anything simply to ensure that something is being done.
In this case, it was a proposal for a workload charter – at first glance, a seemingly sensible list of goals to reduce workload. It outlines the need to ensure that a teacher’s workload outside lessons can be completed in two hours a day and that high-quality schemes of work should be provided.
The wise among you will already have spotted the snag here: who writes the schemes of work? There is a risk here of a repetition of the problem where teachers end up spending most of their PPA time planning for the lessons being taught in that time. Good intentions don’t always work out as planned.
In this case, the scheme aimed at reducing workload revolves around the charter, for which there will apparently be external accreditation. I can’t help but think that school leaders who are genuinely keen on reducing workload might spot the additional workload in providing evidence for such accreditation and decide to focus their energies elsewhere. Those heads keen to add another badge to the letterhead may manage to find evidence to meet the letter of the scheme while missing the spirit entirely.
It seems to be another case of workload reduction being open to fad rather than a real downward pressure on the work expected to be done. And we’ve seen it all before:
Verbal feedback stamps
Another idea that seems great at first glance: instead of copious comments, you just stamp the book. In some cases, it can work. In schools where verbal feedback is truly valued, it probably isn’t necessary. At the other end of the scale, we see stamps being accompanied by written notes of the feedback that was given. The point is lost. What is needed is a real reduction in the expectations of written marking, not a stamp.
The craze of the past few years has been plastic carts. Why lug tons of books home for marking in a bag when you can have a hardy wheeled cart? Well, more to the point, why are they being lugged home at all? It’s not uncommon to see schools that expect every book to be marked every day, despite an already punishing timetable. The solution to this workload is not just an easier way to carry it.
Tablets for data
I’m not averse to teachers being given technology to make their lives easier. But if a tablet also comes with an increase in data collection that school leaders want to check every three weeks, then there’s no workload reduction here. Another of the false economies that cost teachers time.
Labels for learning objectives
This has got to be a joke, right? Writing the learning objective is not a good use of lesson time, fair enough. But how could the solution ever possibly be that the teacher needs to write it, and then print it on 30 labels and get them all stuck in? Surely this is the wrong answer to the question.
The trouble is, these all seem like nice ideas when first concocted in the offices of leadership teams, but the impact on the ground is minimal. There’s a certain irony that the best advice of the past few years on workload has come directly from the Department for Education. Its three workload reports didn’t change the world – but they’re a lot more use than a verbal feedback stamp.
Michael Tidd is deputy head at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire. He tweets @MichaelT1979