The current fecundity of working groups and their ability to reproduce is showing no signs of slowing down. The answer to most problems in education these days seems to be: have a consultation, set up a working or review group and then depending on whether you like what it writes publish the report or bury it.
“The group … on <planning & resources, data or marking> … will aim to present a report to the Secretary of State and Ministers in Spring 2016 … the recommendations must be approved by Ministers before publication.”
The latest set of working groups were announced just as we broke up for half term and will have passed most of the profession by. The workload review groups on Planning & Resources, Data Management and Marking Policy are all well-meaning. I’m also pretty sure the people on the groups will work hard to have an impact and there’s the rub; they will struggle to have an impact.
I have no statistics or research evidence for the claims to follow just a set of feelings in my gut. The first problem the Government and Working Groups have is that a lot of the profession won’t even know they exist. Others will know and simply won’t care. When the reports are published even fewer people will read them and not all those who do will do anything with the recommendations. Consequentially, implementation will be patchy at best and non-existent at worst.
Whilst I’m spiralling into negativity or possibly reality there’s an opportunity to cheer ourselves up by initiating a game of Working Group Catchphrase Bingo. The rules are pretty simple; I’m going to suggest a number of recommendations the Working Group will make in their final report, you think up a few of your own and then select the most likely five for your catchphrase bingo card. The winner, next March, is the person who has correctly matched the most recommendations. I’m going to start you off with the Planning & Resources Working Group.
More or Better Staff Development is a no brainer for inclusion. To be fair there is probably a need for teachers to think about a process of planning and my advice would be don’t plan lessons, plan learning. We did a lot of work with senior and middle leaders about how to collaboratively plan schemes of learning last summer. We have no requirement for teachers to produce individual lesson plans though no doubt some staff will as they find it helps them in the class room.
Building on collaborative planning will be the time saving idea of using a commercially published scheme. Some or possibly many teachers tend to be resistant to these as there is a lack of ownership. Alternatively, develop a shared scheme of learning, for example, within a federation of schools or multi academy trust. The work done by a number of our primary co-ordinators to produce a single shared scheme of learning, including significant assessments and non-negotiable tasks, is fantastic. A number of staff have been involved, generating that shared ownership, it eases workload and has made significant difference in reducing repetition across years and ensuring much greater progression.
The ubiquitous “learn from good or best practice” has to be in the recommendations somewhere. The issue is often whether it is actually good or best practice and who decides this. The evidence beyond “because we say it is” is often weak, causal links to a claimed improvement in results or reduced workload are dubious and transferability to another context not as simple as it seems. Teachers’ practice has shown a resilience to change over the decades, as has the practice of school leaders, and the lack of stickiness in transferring ideas from one place to another is significant.
Greater use of ICT, online solutions or cloud storage are a pretty safe bet but these do tend to have a significant time investment in the first place and major training needs for some staff.
More use of textbooks by teachers will probably go down a storm in early years and with those who teach pupils with complex or profound learning difficulties. Before any one suggests it, the Review Group is not being sponsored by Pearson. Textbooks may have a place, if schools have the funds to buy them and then replace them as soon as a new curriculum and examination syllabus is introduced, but they are not a solution per se.
Reduce unnecessary duplication and over complexity as teachers in some schools are being required to produce plans for the long, medium and short term with schemes of learning then rewritten in triplicate as lesson plans for submission to middle leaders who don’t have the time to read them is adding to the madness. It’s simple, just stop doing it.
I’m pretty certain given a couple of weeks most self-forming groups of teachers and leaders could come up with a set of recommendations that won’t be a million miles away from the final reports of the national Working Groups. There are also great ideas in many blogs for reducing the workload for teachers in all these areas.
How necessary are the Workload Working Groups?
The national Working Groups are too far from away from the locus of implementation, in school, to really influence operational matters nor will they be allowed to address the root cause. In terms of planning & resources the centrally imposed, concurrent and incoherent number of curriculum changes that are all being made at once is the culprit for the current increase in workload. Teachers understand that planning is part of the job and an important one at that. The current workload issue is a combination of: continually having to re-plan every year because no-one thought through the totality of the implementation of the new curriculum and examination changes almost all at once and some over the top demands from school leaders. The potential solutions already lie in the Government’s hands … plan curriculum changes sensibly and sequentially over an extended time period and re-imagine accountability … but neither of these look likely to happen any time soon.
If school leaders have already prioritised reducing workload then the Working Group is not necessary and if they haven’t it will not be effective. The problem is schools, their leaders and the teachers within them are doing too much already and implementing changes to workload are themselves a workload issue in some schools. There is a need for deeper structural change into the way we do education in England..
Apart from this I think the Review Groups are a great idea. So if the Department for Education wants to set up one for Ofsted & Accountability or Reducing Politicians Influence in Education then please contact me via the blog as I’m happy to Chair or participate in either (though a have a preference for the first one).
Planning & Resources
Feeding the Data Monster