You don't have to look far before you come across staggering teacher statistics:
67% of teachers surveyed said their job has adversely impacted their mental or physical health. (1)
83% of education staff surveyed have considered leaving the profession. (2)
A workload survey found that classroom teachers and middle leaders work an average of 54.4 hours a week, while senior leaders average 60 hours. (3)
I found that as a phase leader, I regularly worked over 60 hours a week. It was a difficult cycle to break or challenge, especially when so many others around me were doing similar, and more often than not, many more. Finding short-cuts was an ongoing battle which sometimes worked and other times I ended up frustratingly doing half a job.
The truth is, teacher workload is a huge problem which has led to too many teachers, leaving to join other professions. In 2018, many teachers reported that "workload levels negatively impacted on their ability to maintain appropriate work-life balance, stress levels, and general well-being", and that this was the main contributing factor to deciding to leave the profession.
This blog will pinpoint what individual schools can do to help to reduce teacher workload significantly. In particular, I hope this will provide some 'food for thought' for Senior Leadership Teams (SLT) to help identify potential barriers. Before we look at specific pointers, here are some fundamentals to remember.
Workload fundamentals for Headteachers and SLT
Firstly, reducing staff workload is not an event but is a constant process. Reviewing it must be a regular, innate part of school life.
Be open when considering introducing a new initiative. Discuss with staff and ask for feedback; resist the urge to launch into something straight away without asking those on the ground for their opinion. An open dialogue should prevent senior leaders from losing touch with classroom practice.
Try and follow the policy, 'one in, one out'. When introducing a new initiative, program or scheme, consider whether or not it overlaps with another system — ensuring that there is no repetition or too many ways of doing the same thing. Thus, providing clarity as well as reducing workload.
Five Practical Steps to Reduce Workload
Having firm boundaries to ensure staff are protected is essential. These can range from covering additional classes to supervising school evening events. I have witnessed teachers time and time again, been worn down by unnecessary meetings, e-mails, and taking on other responsibilities outside of their leading teaching timetable.
Have timetables in place for extra-school events like fundraising discos, PTA meetings, etc., ensuring every out of school event does not need to be supported by all staff. For example, a teacher only does one additional event per term.
Make sure there is a smooth, fair and recorded process for covering classes and rules in place. For example, a teacher covers no more than one extra class per half term.
E-mails have meant that many teachers find it difficult to switch off, even at the weekend! Rules such as no-one is expected to respond to e-mails over the weekend, can have a hugely positive impact on a teacher's well-being.
Promote collaborative working amongst all teachers. Doing so can significantly reduce paperwork through the sharing of ideas and planning. When schools have more than one form entry, this particularly works well but equally can work for the sharing of topics and resources across neighboring year groups.
Where possible, consider allowing teachers of the same or neighboring year groups to have planning time at the same time. Allowing for time for teachers to coordinate and talk through planning ideas can save hours of work for an individual teacher.
Consider encouraging teachers to use a shared program such as Google docs where a group of teachers can input their planning ideas and resource ideas.
Many teachers are regularly 'drowned' in marking. Ensuring that marking is not putting unnecessary strain and workload onto teachers is vital. Thinking about the pupils and what is helpful and what is not, is critical. I have been to schools where the expectation is teachers mark in different colors for different aspects such as spelling, language use, and development points. This results in teachers often spending more time marking than what the pupils did writing!
When implementing or modifying a marking policy, ensure that there is the right balance between the impact of pupil progression and the impact on teacher workload.
Ensuring approaches are not too prescriptive is essential. Planning, for example, must not be too uniform as teachers' level of experience and style varies greatly. Moreover, allowing for different teaching styles encourages teachers to be individual and work to their strengths instead of feeling like they have to follow a specific form often resulting in additional paperwork that they do not actually use or find helpful.
Discuss the possibility of getting rid of any standard proforma for whole-school approaches such as planning which can often be very time consuming as well as limiting for teachers.
At particularly pressured points of the year, consider canceling whole-school staff meetings in place of department or phase team meetings or giving staff extra time to complete the already heavy workload.
Such times of the year could be near the end of terms for data, Christmas concert weeks as well as parents evening and report writing weeks.
There are many school policies and procedures that can be put in place to help protect teacher workload and help maintain a healthy work-life balance. Additionally, knowing that there are rules in place sends out messages as whole-school that staff well-being is of paramount importance, helping staff to feel that they are both valued and respected.
Ultimately, reducing teacher workload is not just about assisting teachers in finding a better balance and staying within the profession; it's about letting them get on with teaching!
"What a teacher is, is more important than what he teaches." - Karl Menninger
At the end of the day, as teachers, we just want to teach.