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Our New Secretary of State is on a Workload Mission

The new Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, has made addressing workload one of his top three priorities. The public perception of teachers wasting time needlessly filling in form after form grasps the issue but misses the point. It’s not needless forms, though there will be some of those, it is the culture that is driving workload.

Meeting him on Tuesday, as part of a larger group of school leaders from Blackpool and a couple from across the border in Lancashire, was worth giving up one afternoon of half term for. Like most politicians he is committed to doing good and sincere in his desire to improve the education system.

There is no silver bullet nor quick fixes. Resolving the workload issue in education will require deep rooted change at a system, school and individual level; systematic, systemic and co-ordinated.  I don’t believe that solving workload is solely or even primarily in the hands of teachers and school leaders; in fact I believe that is naive. Each school’s culture is set within a national meta-culture that drives many of the workload demands.

Take for example, curriculum planning for the raft of Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2, GCSE and A-level changes driven out almost concurrently from Westminster.

One suggestion to reduce workload associated with planning is, Why not produce one national scheme of learning that we all adopt? From the start of our careers we have been trained differently, developed as professionals differently, left to our own/school devices and would balk at the thought of having to all adopt the same scheme of work. We have no collective view or beliefs about our subjects. With hundreds of different initial teacher training providers and the atomisation of the school system nothing will change any time soon.

The workload associated with all the curriculum changes can be mitigated at a school level – we have implemented a number of extra INSET days and used our weekly meeting time collaboratively plan – but it can’t be taken away. The planning has to be done and teachers end up doing it. With just over a quarter of the votes this came in second of the three options I gave.

With the benefit of hindsight, I probably should have added a “none of the above option” but was also contacted by a number of people saying all three; some commented on how they were interrelated.

Accountability at a national level and the impact in some/many schools of a monitoring and surveillance culture was the number one issue by a garden mile. I can’t even pretend I’m surprised. I also can’t see any end to the current excessive workload and crisis approaching of a lack of teachers without a radical reform of Ofsted and performance measures and the re-education of many school leaders. Dubious data collected half termly, just in case learning walks and book reviews all contribute to the criminal waste of talent that walks out the school gate or never actually enters post training.

This is where we need to create the links in our thinking and actions. More intelligent, proportionate and when needed supportive intervention is just a start. We have no graded lesson observations, never adopted annual performance pay and infrequently collect whole school aggregated data; our data is driven by the needs of teachers and learners; retention and recruitment matter.

The proposed changes to Qualified Teacher status have much to commend them, however, if what comes before and after isn’t also rethought and connected then they might just be a bright spot in an otherwise confused career structure.

The removal of bursaries for people training to be primary school teachers has potentially led to the significant reduction in applications to train in 2018/19. Teacher shortages look like they are getting much worse. However, giving a trainee a £30,000 tax free bursary with no requirement ever to teach or repay it is scandalous. Who ever thought that was a good idea? What about training bursary for all people training to teach; start at the national minimum wage if we have to. If you don’t teach you have to repay it; if you do then over an agreed period the bursary and training fees are paid off.

The lack of votes for the funding option; surprises me. Maybe the full effects are yet to be felt. School leaders are stressing about it, any reserves are being used up but the real impact has yet to hit the full teacher workforce. Greater contact time and higher number of pupils in class are a reality for some already. As ever these issues hit school unevenly; accountability in Blackpool, funding in rural Sussex?

Love a Good Selfie 😉

All of these issues will be live and debated with gusto at the forthcoming Headteachers’ Roundtable Summit; we’ll be listening to different perspectives and then crowd sourcing policy ideas in the afternoon. Hope to see some people there. It’s been suggested that we should adopt “The Wheels on the Bus” as our group’s anthem or as we believe to be more accurate “the wheels on the buses”.



3 thoughts on “Our New Secretary of State is on a Workload Mission

  1. In the none of the above section, I would add the following comment:
    In my independent school, leadership has sought to address issues on funding and class size. Curriculum change has been a monster, but we are largely through that, though some staff are reluctant to spend even more time working together to create common resources etc. which builds unnecessary resentment. Accountability to national demands are almost invisible, though accountability to pupils/students, parents and school aims has its own straitjacket. What has brought an unusual increase in workload is that our school has become a one-stop shop for so many issues; the broken care system means we see many more problems and have to fix properly which takes time, resources and humanity, all of which are a drain on morale. By ‘The care system’ I mean both formal, such as HP, hospital, social services, policing etc. around child health and well – being, but also the informal, of parenting, extended family and community, because these too have been stretched by the conscious decision to ‘take more care’. The most resilient families have relatives close by, or are those whose life choices are fully catered for so even if expat away from home, they understand their ”bunker”.
    If there is sunshine in sight, it is because the added experience gained through this lengthy period of challenges has built better professionals, with a wider skill base including school nurses and HR support. We have 32 teachers in training, and that new blood does remind the old campaigners that the job excites and stimulates in ways other professions cannot. Selling a way of writing poetry is immediately more rewarding than a pension plan.
    The new secretary of state needs to be wary though, and resurfacing ideas that will immediately divide an emerging concensus between those that rule and those that teach is clearly not the best first thing to suggest.

    Posted by jameswilding | February 19, 2018, 6:48 am

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