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Workload Can’t Be Solved by a Poster

If anyone who signed up to the workload poster reads this post I can imagine them thinking “there is no pleasing some people”.  There is a growing correlation between my age and increased level of grumpiness.  The poster just made me cross.

The Department for Education has pulled off a major coup by getting the teaching unions to sign up to the workload poster.  It essentially lays the blame and the solution for workload squarely in the hands of school leaders; what the hell ASCL and NAHT were thinking of goodness only knows.



Nothing much to disagree with in the Do and Don’t columns.  However, I couldn’t get past the header of the third column before my blood pressure started to rise.  “Remember Ofsted Says” should really read “Remember Ofsted has been imposing a whole series of unsustainable and inappropriate practices on schools for the past two decades but now we’d like to change our mind and offer the following expectation but please remember it is very difficult to get all our inspectors to be totally consistent; they are human beings first and foremost, so give us a call if there is a problem.”  I accept it’s not as short and snappy as the header used nor does it work particularly well as a hashtag.  By the way, it’s perfectly reasonable for Ofsted to change its mind and is a necessary part of the evolution of any organisation or individual.

Following three consecutive Ofsted reports that criticised marking at the school, I introduced a Neanderthal system which was anything but manageable.  Marking workload increased significantly, for two years, until we repealed the policy and re-thought our approach.  My rationale was we can’t have a fourth consecutive report criticising us.  Whilst the policy did reduce the variability in the quantity and quality of marking it was less than meaningful in many places.  I was so busy with a capital building programme that I missed the whole triple marking fad; our staff thank God to this day.

It is a moot point whether we were closer to “meaningful, manageable, motivating” marking pre or post-Ofsted intervention.  What I do know is that school leaders must take their share of the responsibility but they do not work in isolation; Ofsted and school leaders have a lot to apologise for.



The advice on planning is again spot on; nothing much to disagree with.  School and middle leaders should take note.  However, the causation of many of our problems is the amount of concurrent curriculum and assessment changes required in primary schools, at GCSE and A-level, driven by the Department for Education.  Changes which have and continue to be imposed on schools and teachers.  I could hardly tell primary colleagues to ignore the curriculum or assessment changes last year or English and Maths teachers to not bother with the new GCSE or A-level specifications this year or other colleagues next year and the year after.  It didn’t help when publication of specifications was delayed or supporting materials were rather sparse on the ground.

There’s little we can do about this apart from grit our teeth and get through it.  It’s not too late for a couple of extra INSET days to be given to all schools for the 2017/18 and 2018/19 academic years to enable collaborative planning time for teachers.  Academies have the freedom to do this already; maintained schools don’t.

The National Audit Office as well as identifying the £3 billion reduction in funding were also hugely critical of the Department for Education’s failure to factor in any costs/funding for all the changes that were being foisted on schools; lessons need to be learnt all round.  A little less advice and a bit more mea culpa from the Department might help soothe the situation.



Data, the wrong kind of data, has been king for a long time driven by a punitive accountability system; aggregated data, two sub-levels progress a year or for exceptional performance a level per year.  Cue collection of nonsense, collation into tables and the drawing of graphs, venn diagrams and pie charts.  Fed to senior leaders, governors, local authority officers and inspectors everyone was happy; no-one spotted that the emperor had no clothes on.  The same happened with lesson observation data.  I’ve got spreadsheets of lesson grades stretching over years.  I keep them to remind myself of the stupidity of our education system and my stupidity for accepting the prevailing norms rather than questioning them.  By way of bizarre contrast, when I first became a Headteacher I would not observe candidates for jobs teaching as a couldn’t set up a system of two classes full of identical twins to enable valid comparison.

And so, “Ofsted will usually expect to see routine evidence of the monitoring of teaching and learning and it’s link to teachers’ performance management and the teachers’ standards …”  If this is what Ofsted “usually” expect to see then maybe some of us should be unusual.  Others may ask why Ofsted want this and yet more may ask, “how can we do this with any validity?”  The expectation will be top down; it is what we have grown up with in the profession.

I request permission to have no more evidence than what is of value to teachers and middle leaders; what is of value in the class room to promote pupils’ learning.  I’m happy to ensure there is a system for teachers to identify what they do and don’t teach well, within their subject, and further ensure there is the means for getting that little bit better every week, term and year

How long before we question whether the time spent on performance management is worth the effort and weep at the nonsense of performance related pay.  There may be more #mythbusters trying to undo the unnecessary damage done.  Told you I was feeling grumpy.



4 thoughts on “Workload Can’t Be Solved by a Poster

  1. I’ve felt like this for quite some time and, reading the thoughts of eloquent leaders like your good self, has only served to confirm my misgivings about the external accountability and the dire consequences of invalidated data. Add to that the (and we’ve known for many years!) inconsistency between observation judgements and a curriculum prone to bias simply because of its perceived impact on a ridiculously stupifying number by which schools are now judged, and I think you’re not alone in turning into a teacher version of Victor Meldrew!

    I’m with you and feel the last 10 years in particular have been immensely damaging and leaders need to be as frank and honest as you in holding our hands up. However, the relief from the cathartic letting off of steam, whilst enjoyable, will not see change. Surely we need, as a profession, to take a stance – firmly and unequivocally. A job for the Chartered College to coordinate? I think so for one. It’s the one potential umb organisation under which we may stand unified.

    I quite enjoy grumpiness actually.

    Posted by bocks1 | March 5, 2017, 8:13 am
  2. We are a maintained school and put an extra 2 INSET days in this year and next. Nobody has batted an eyelid.

    Posted by seb | March 5, 2017, 10:45 am
  3. Schools as institutions for learning have been around for at least 7000 years, and have for most of that time had to manage their affairs with efficiency and purpose. When public bodies such as DfE and Ofsted publish posters supporting the ‘bleeding obvious’, our professional standards are belittled and/or ignored and it’s great when bloggers like you pick up and highlight what arrant nonsense this stuff is. Every item on the ‘Do’ list had been turned into a stick to beat the workforce by; yet actually they are what we s are dong each day. I am reminded of the Victor Hugo quote: “Jesus wept; Voltaire smiled. From that divine tear and from that human smile is derived the grace of present civilization.” T shirts and Mugs carry it probably on all continents of the planet. Yet Voltaire’s smile was known at the time as rather more hideous and as a ‘ghastly grin’ (‘rictus épouvantable’). Hugo had to put the record straight in stating ‘This smile is wisdom. This smile, I repeat, is Voltaire’ (‘Ce sourire, c’est la sagesse. Ce sourire, je le répète, c’est Voltaire’).
    Whoever is Secretary of State for Education, is the Voltaire of the age, and in so being is thus responsible for the civilization to be found in schools. Sometimes, their smile will indeed be wise and benign, more recently, irrespective of the occupant the slit has indeed been épouvantable. Whatever, Jesus still weeps.

    Posted by jameswilding | March 5, 2017, 5:47 pm
  4. Don’t plan to please external organizations (or even internal organizations). Couldn’t agree more with that one. More planning doesn’t necessary lead to better lessons.

    Posted by J. English | February 28, 2018, 11:41 am

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