There’s nothing I like to think of more during an Easter weekend than the challenge of teacher workload. So what a gift it was of the Department for Education to publish its reports into marking, planning and data on Easter Saturday.
In essence, all three reports say the same thing: you’re probably wasting your time on unnecessary things, so decide what is unnecessary and stop doing it. So that’s that issue solved, then.
For those of us after a little more detail, there are a few words of guidance on offer.
Let us start with marking, a topic close to my heart. Here, the report offers us a catchy phrase that should guide our marking policies: meaningful, manageable and motivating. It also highlights the nonsense of written feedback on the work of pupils who are unable to read it.
Interestingly, the opening sentence of the report – that “effective marking is an essential part of the education process” – has already been challenged by one member of the working party, David Didau, in his own blog. And quite rightly in my view: we still have some way to go before we have any useful research into what actually works when it comes to marking. Neverthless, this report at least acts as a green light for schools wanting to find a better way.
The planning and resources report offers some wise words on the importance of planning sequences of learning, rather than individual lessons – a message with which I could not agree more. One of the most notable traits of novice and trainee teachers is that survival instinct of thinking only one lesson at a time. Like good drivers monitoring events in the distance, the best planning considers the longer-term goals of learning.
The report proposes that this be achieved by providing teachers with time for collaborative planning, something I doubt we’ll see in the current climate of austerity and real-terms funding cuts. The report also firmly points out that the DfE should commit to appropriate lead-in times for new changes, including publishing materials in good time; something they have singularly failed to do time and again over recent years.
Finally, in the data report, many of the messages of the Commission on Assessment without levels are reiterated.
I fear that the recommendation that “summative data should not normally be collected more than three times a year per pupil” will be translated in schools into “summative data should be collected three times a year”, but perhaps this is an improvement for some.
Importantly for school leaders, the report also recommends bringing forward the dates of publication for key documents such as RaiseOnline. There are also some recommendations for the department to get its own house in order when it comes to data demands.
Nicky Morgan has welcomed all three reports: it remains to be seen how well her department lives up to its side of the challenge, and whether the announcement of “new measures” actually turns into any action at the DfE.
Michael Tidd is deputy head of Edgewood primary in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire