'We must take ownership as a profession and drive the changes towards eliminating unnecessary workload'

The government have fired the starting pistol but if we sit back and wait for change to come, we could be left sorely disappointed and frustrated, writes one heads' leader

James Bowen

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The workload challenge reports that were published by the government are now almost six months old. The big question is: have they made a difference?

To a certain extent, it might have been asking a bit too much to expect significant changes to occur two thirds of the way through an academic year but if we don’t start seeing an impact this year then it is hard to see when we ever will. My feeling is that if genuine change is going to happen, we are going to have to take ownership as a profession and drive those changes ourselves.

Middle leaders, with the support of senior leaders, are uniquely placed to take the lead when it comes to tacking unnecessary workload and now is the time to do it.

If we sit back and wait for change to come, we could be left sorely disappointed and frustrated. The government have fired the starting pistol and now it is up to us to grab the baton and run with it.

Start a conversation 

The first place to start is a conversation with the headteacher and senior leaders about their views on eliminating unnecessary workload. Understandably, this may not be at the very top of their priority list for the year, but the vast majority will see the importance both in terms of staff wellbeing and also from the perspective of efficient working practices.

It is vitally important that the emphasis is kept on eliminating unnecessary workload rather than just reducing workload per se. To a certain extent we expect teaching to be an intense and, at times, demanding job, but this is even more reason to make sure that the limited time available is focused on things that make a real difference to pupils.

Lead a review

Once there is a strong commitment in place, it is advisable to form a team of interested parties to lead a review of workload in the school. Obviously care must be taken about the additional workload this in itself creates, but it does feel like a bit of short-term pain for long-term gain.

Senior and middle leaders are ideally placed to lead this. They understand the pressures from above but also what it is like ‘on the ground’ and in the classroom.

There is a wide variety of ways to go about addressing the issue but it might be a good idea to start by looking at the same three issues that the reports themselves covered to keep a clear sense of focus. Otherwise there is a real danger that the group will become overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the task.

Consult everyone 

Once the group has been formed it is well worth reading the reports through and discussing the recommendations as well as what this might mean in your school.

If any of the suggested changes that the group comes up with are to make a difference, it is important that both senior leaders and the rest of the staff are consulted. Having representatives from both as part of the group is very much advisable. An idea might look great on paper but if senior leaders don’t support it or the staff think it’s unworkable, it’s unlikely to gain much traction.

To gain as many views as possible, consider carrying out a short survey for all staff to complete where they can highlight the biggest workload issues they face as well as any potential solutions they have.

Allow them to go beyond the scope of the three reports in this survey as there may well be additional issues and ideas that are worth considering.

Middle leaders have consistently told me that the biggest single obstacle they face in their role is a lack of time – this work can be a key part of a positive and constructive response. 


James Bowen is director of the NAHT Edge 

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