Will the Workload Challenge lighten the load for staff?

`Overworked' teachers asked for their views in new survey

It has long been a bugbear for teachers, but this week politicians from the three main parties also voiced their concerns about the profession's excessive workload.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan called on teachers to speak out about their working lives and tell the government how the load could be lightened. To enable this, she launched the Workload Challenge via the TES website, which asks teachers to spell out the specific problems they have in school and make suggestions for how the situation could be remedied.

The Challenge builds on pledges made by the minister in her speech to the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham last month, in which she promised to do "everything I can" to reduce the workload of teachers. According to the Department for Education, the survey attracted more than 6,000 responses in the 12 hours after it was launched earlier this week.

"While I marvel at the immense dedication of our teaching workforce, I don't want my child to be taught by someone too stressed and too anxious to do the job well and I don't want it for anyone else's child either," Ms Morgan told TES. "That's why I am so pleased to be launching the Workload Challenge and to work with the profession to develop solutions that will help us to reduce unnecessary workload."

The teaching unions welcomed the move, but warned that the survey's results would be uncomfortable reading for ministers. "Ultimately, teachers' workload will only be reduced when politicians learn to respect the demanding and difficult work that teachers and school leaders do," said ATL general secretary Mary Bousted. "Regrettably, we are still some way off that."

The NASUWT said that the government had not reduced teachers' workload in its four years in power, despite being given detailed evidence of excessive hours.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, teachers in England work 48 hours a week on average, with one in 10 doing 65 hours or more. Most of their time is spent on administrative tasks, producing detailed lesson plans and marking. The OECD's statistics show that teachers in England work longer hours than the rest of the world but spend less time in the classroom - 20 hours a week on average.

The Workload Challenge was backed by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. Visiting a school in South London, he said: "It is time for us to stop that runaway train of bureaucracy in its tracks."

Survey responses from teachers will be fed back to a panel of teachers and education experts in the new year. The panel will work with the profession, teaching unions and Ofsted to put forward recommendations.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt also made his case for how the Labour Party would help to free up teachers' time this week, calling for a period of stability in the curriculum, "intelligent inspection" and "sensible management".

Find the survey at tesconnect.comdfe

`We're demoralised'

Wendy Exton, who teaches at the Aspire Academy, a special school in Bath, says she is "sceptical" about politicians' calls for action.

"We have a general election coming up so I think that is partly to do with it," she says. "I think they've realised how demoralised the profession has become due to the reforms of [former education secretary] Michael Gove and they are now trying to counteract that."

Ms Exton says workload is more of a problem now than at any time during her 20-year career. "When I started it wasn't this bad," she adds. "The last three years have really tipped people over the edge.

"The problem is Ofsted. There needs to be evidence for everything; you can no longer use your professional judgement. Tackle the problem with Ofsted, then you can address the problem with teacher workload."

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