The accountability system is creaking and driving too much of the wrong type of work; sorting it is a necessary step in addressing workload. This would still leave much to do. Teachers’ contact ratio is currently too high; we exacerbate the problem by providing poor quality irrelevant CPD.
I think the Government quite like the profession being in knots about workload when we agree to play ball with the ‘cut out unnecessary tasks’ line as it subtly builds a narrative that school leaders are bureaucratic task masters with little understanding of looking after their staff, learners or learning.
Far better to say, “You know what, the work load for a lesson is huge and a lesson takes time to plan and I can’t cut down or even worse cut out completely x, y and z as these are the fundamental pillars of learning”. What you can do is fund schools so teachers have less lessons to deliver each week, but in return expect the lessons to be super stellar!’
Jim Smith (Author, The Really Lazy Teachers Handbook)
Last September we reduced every teacher’s classroom commitment by one hour a week across the Trust. For secondary teachers they taught one less hour a week; in our primary academies they have consolidated the hour into five extra days of non-contact time a year. We ask that the additional time is focussed on professional development of the teacher’s choosing. Some have decided to do Masters, others NPQML/SL and others bespoke projects of interest. They’re all aimed at getting that bit better at teaching.
The one hour, whilst well received, isn’t going to be a workload buster. On its own it doesn’t allow sufficient time for the planning and marking required to deliver every lesson as a “stellar lessons”. Unless class sizes increase substantially, we simply don’t have the funds nor additional teachers required to provide a reasonable balance of planning and preparation compared to delivery time. Instead we’ll possibly continue along the downward spiral that is seeing poor retention and recruitment of staff; those left have greater workloads and the spiral becomes more of a plummet. Under funding public services, like austerity, is a political choice. Sufficient and fair funding for schools is a becoming a political necessity.
Whilst a reasonable level of non-contact time isn’t looking likely anytime soon; reasonable quality professional development shouldn’t be too much to ask for. Yet across the system teachers are subject to one off sessions on different issues, provided with no time to develop a particular aspect of practice before the school moves and no coaching support to embed and refine pedagogy. Br Ben Laker talks about the difference between “thunder and lightning”; we need to stop the one off flashes and start allowing ideas to rumble around as we seek to understand and embed them fully.
During this year we’ve started to use our work as a Research School (Education Endowment Foundation) and CPD Centre of Excellence (Teacher Development Trust) to rethink what we introduce; how we introduce it and the pace at which we introduce things. It’s slower more methodical work with research, evidence and professional development part of an intertwined, integrated approach. Our next challenge is to help provide other schools across Blackpool with the opportunity to do the same; research, evidence and professional development champions who can start to change the culture from within the school. Work that gives us purpose and has a purpose is the ultimate workload buster.