Who says teacher workload has got easier?

The DfE's latest teacher workload survey doesn't account for teachers too busy to complete it, says Michael Tidd

Teacher workload: Many teachers are too busy to fill in the government's teacher workload survey, says Michael Tidd

No doubt you’re sitting back to read this while relaxing with a nice cup of tea, and wondering how you might spend the rest of your spare time this week. Gone are the days of teachers working long hours, slaving over books or PCs, planning, marking and preparing for teaching.

What’s that you say? You’re still working like a dog? But the Department for Education’s teacher workload survey says that our lives have got easier over the past three years. Teachers are now working a mere 50-hour week, compared with the 55 hours of three years ago. I suppose some might argue that 50 hours is still quite a lot, but surely with five hours spare, we ought to be feeling positively relaxed.

In some cases, that’s probably true. For some teachers, a shift in marking policies, the removal of several data entry points and a reduction in expectations for planning have probably led to a more comfortable balance of work and other things. When the survey was carried out in spring this year, clearly many teachers reported something along those lines.

Cutting teacher workload

But all of us equally know of stories, whether first-hand or otherwise, of schools where this is undoubtedly not the case. There are plenty of examples floating around social media of schools where weekly planning is still scrutinised by the headteacher, where data is entered every six weeks and where marking still matches those ridiculous policies of a few years ago. 

Many of those teachers might not be reading this: they haven’t had a chance to realise the shift that’s happening in other schools because they’re so weighed down by the work of their own. But they exist, no doubt. And there’s every likelihood that such teachers are exactly the ones overlooked by the current workload survey.

For a start, the way into any school to get the survey completed in the first place is presumably via the headteacher. A good deal of the workload in any school is within the control of, if not the direct result of, the headteacher. If, as a head, you try to take steps to minimise the workload for your staff, then you might be reluctant to add to it by sharing the survey. But equally you might be glad to open up your school to such scrutiny based on your efforts. What incentive is there for the headteacher who knows that he or she is a hard taskmaster and demands a lot of their staff?

Then again, even if such a headteacher were willing to allow their staff to be surveyed, what likelihood is there that an overworked teacher, already close to a 60-hour week, would find it in their hearts to provide 20 minutes of their valuable time to help out the DfE? Particularly given the fact that many headteachers who cling to burdensome tasks often deflect any criticism by blaming the department or the inspectorate for the work in the first place.

There’s no doubt that there has been a concerted effort across the profession in recent years to make an effort on reducing workload, but such efforts have not been uniformly spread. Any look through around a local pyramid or to a neighbouring academy trust will easily bring examples of crazy practices still continuing, whether it’s an insistence of daily marking of exercise books or reams of pointless data being produced and analysed.

Let’s not overlook, either, the fact that this survey was undertaken in March, long before the real push on the new Ofsted framework took hold. I wonder how many subject leaders in primary schools feel like their workload has reduced recently!

Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979

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