Teacher-Workload Challenge: Review Groups’ Report to Government

9 Apr

On 31 March 2016, the three workload review groups commissioned by Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, released their reports.  Their findings and recommendations, which were accepted in full by Mrs Morgan, were as follows.

(1)     The Working Group for Planning and Resources

  1. Senior leaders should not automatically require the same planning format across the school and should review demands made on teachers.
  2. A fully resourced, collaboratively produced scheme-of-work should be put in place for all teachers for the start of each term.
  3. Teachers should consider the use of externally produced and quality-assured resources, such as textbooks or teacher guides, and move away from a bias against them.
  4. More staff should engage in collaborative planning instead of spending a great deal of time planning individual lessons.
  5. Initial Teacher Training (ITT) providers should review their demands on trainee teachers and concentrate on how to plan across a sequence of lessons.

(2)     The Working Group for Marking

  1. There is “little robust evidence” to support the use of extensive written comments when marking pupils’ work.
  2. Providing written feedback on pupils’ work “has become disproportionately valued by schools and has unnecessarily burdensome for teachers.”
  3. Instead, teachers should use their “professional judgements” to decide how best to mark work. They should “be more active” in using evidence to determine what works best.
  4. All marking should be “meaningful, manageable and motivating”.
  5. This approach should be made clear to trainee teachers.
  6. School leaders “must have the confidence to reject decisions that increase burdens for their staff for little dividend”.
  7. Some teachers are “wasting time” using “disproportionate” marking practices such as extensive comments that children in an early years class are unable to read.
  8. “If teachers are spending more time on marking than the children are on a piece of work then the proportion is wrong and should be changed.”
  9. “If your current approach is unmanageable or disproportionate, stop it and adopt an approach that considers exactly what the marking needs to achieve for pupils”.
  10. The Department for Education should “disseminate” these findings.

(3)     The Working Group on Data Management

  1. People should not be rewarded for ‘gold plating’ – the process of collecting all data ‘just in case’ – as it is both “dangerous” and “unnecessary”.
  2. Staff should not be asked for or duplicate data collected elsewhere.
  3. Schools leaders should conduct a regular audit of in-school data management procedures to ensure they remain manageable for staff.
  4. Schools should not routinely collect formative assessment data and summative data should not normally be collected more than three times a year per pupil.
  5. Teachers need to record data accurately and ensure it is correct first time.

(4)     Proposals to Ofsted and Government on their approaches to the issues

The three working groups also made recommendations to both, Ofsted and Government, in relation to their approaches to the three areas.

(i)         Ofsted

The working groups advised Ofsted to

  1. continue to monitor inspection reports to ensure no particular methods of planning or marking are praised as exemplars;
  2. ensure training of inspectors emphasises the commitment in the framework; and
  3. continue to communicate the clarification paragraphs in the inspection framework through updates and other relevant channels.

(ii)        Government

They asked the government to support their recommendations by taking the following action.

  1. Commit to sufficient lead-in times for changesfor which the sector will have to undertake significant planning to implement.
  2. Use its influence to disseminate the principles of the report through system leaders.
  3. Consider including data management skills in national qualifications for school leaders.
  4. Bring forward the release of both validated and unvalidated data to as early as possible in the cycle so it is available when decisions are taken to prevent unnecessary duplication by schools.

(5)     Reactions

While Mrs Morgan accepted the recommendations of the review groups, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) at its Spring 2016 conference, decided to pursue its desire to take strike action about the worsening teacher workload situation, albeit it welcomed the recommendations.

David Didau, a member of the Marking Working Group, suggested that Ofsted must hold schools accountable for teachers’ well-being.   Teachers could help, he added, by providing the watchdog with anonymous reviews on their schools when leaving their jobs.

He told The Times Educational Supplement: “I would propose some sort of national system where, whenever a teacher leaves a job, they (sic) leave a write-up on a national database detailing the answers to questions on why they’re (sic) leaving. So, if there was a cause for concern, an inspector could have a look at that information and say there is a bit of a pattern.

“One of the levers that I think would make this successful is to have teacher well-being as something schools are held accountable for.  As a starting point, schools would have to account to Ofsted for their turnover. Say 25 members of staff have left – is that all down to random chance or have they all decided to leave because they’re burned out?”

Matthew Stevenson, a member of the Data Management Working Group and Assistant Headteacher at Henbury School in Bristol, supported Didau suggesting that Ofsted should introduce a new teacher well-being judgement on a trial basis to gauge the impact it has.

(6)     Reflections

The recommendations of the national working groups on reducing teacher workload are welcome.  Nicky Morgan’s full acceptance of their recommendations is even better.   However, in education we constantly talk of impact. The crunch will be whether anything comes of these recommendations? Time only will tell but the signs are not good because of continuing changes to school structure (see the White Paper), the curriculum, assessments and tests and examination.

Tangentially, the recommendations of the working parties are bound to pile further pressure on headteachers many of whom are already stressed out with having to prove to the world and its dog that their schools and academies are doing well.  They will be held to account for teachers’ well-being which is being impaired through no fault of their own but rather the pressures being placed on them by government and Ofsted.

We have a teacher shortage and even worse, a headteacher shortage nationally.   Many governing bodies are in very difficult positions having to find good leaders for their schools and academies.  When they do, they have to hold on to them as best they can by tending to their well-being while also ensuring that they deliver the goods on the quality of education and pupil progress and achievement.

The working groups’ recommendations suggest panaceas for easing teacher workload but they will create other problems. Their reports provide a starting point for discussing how best to move forward.  Nicky Morgan’s acceptance of the reports will not be enough.

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