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?
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”.