Reducing Workload

Before I start I should say that this is not a rant about SLT. I have worked with some excellent Senior Leadership Teams who have been very aware of and considerate of their staff’s work/life balance. However I have worked with several that have not. I have sometimes got the impression that they are so bogged down with trying to jump through their own hoops that they don’t know how to think about staff workload any more.

There are several simple things that any SLT can do to reduce staff workload:

  1. Explicitly state that you understand that teaching is a very demanding job and it may not be possible to do everything brilliantly all the time.
  2. Make sure teachers are clear about what to prioritise if they are under time pressure to get everything done. These in sane world would be planning and marking (in that order)
  3. Make the differences between what you’d like to see in an ideal world and what your minimum expectations are clear and explicit. They CANNOT BE THE SAME.
  4. Gather your own bloody evidence.
  5. Explicitly acknowledge that not all subjects and not all exams are the same and that not all policies are appropriate for all departments. What is good practice in one department may not be in another.
  6. Explicitly acknowledge that not all pupils are the same and may not progress in a linear fashion, by the same amount as each other or by the same amount in all subjects.
  7. If you are line managing a subject that is not your subject then please ask someone you trust, that teaches a full timetable in the subject concerned whether something is a good idea or not before putting your brilliant new policy in front of the department.
  8. Put some thought into the calendar so there is not too much going on at once if that is avoidable.
  9. Gather your own bloody evidence.

    Beyond that it is worth finding out what teachers are spending time doing and asking the questions “Do I want teachers spending their time doing that?”, “Does that benefit pupils?”, “Will that improve anyone’s learning?”

Teachers in our school spent quite a lot of time collecting evidence for their Performance management reviews. Is that a worthwhile use of teacher time? I don’t think so. Does it benefit pupils? Absolutely not.

A huge amount of time is spent on collecting evidence and admin. Does any of that benefit pupils?

Rather than teachers providing evidence that they are doing their jobs well the assumption should be that teachers and doing their jobs well. The onus should be on managers to find evidence to the contrary should they feel the need to do so.

Near the beginning of each year I would ask staff that are willing to do so to log the dates and times of any work they do outside of school hours for a fortnight along with what they were doing. The purpose of this would be twofold.

Firstly it might identify some training needs or flawed policies (if the time being spent on something is too much of does not reflect the quality of work).

Secondly it might flag up some policy related issues if staff are spending a significant amount of time doing anything other than planning and marking.

When a new policy is being considered or a policy is being reviewed it’s worth considering whether or not you would prefer staff to be planning or marking rather than carrying out the policy. If planning or marking would be a better use of teacher time then is the policy really that worthwhile? If it doesn’t relate to planning or marking then perhaps people other than teachers could do it. The assumption should not be that teachers will be willing or able to do extra work on top of their planning and marking workload whenever someone chucks some extra work their way.

Also please bear in mind that changing your practice from something you are comfortable and familiar with to something you are not either requires a lot of work or results in a drop in quality of whatever the policy relates to while people become familiar with the new way of working. Acknowledge that.

The final thing I would do is state explicitly that when there are internal exams, parents evenings, trips or anything else that place extra demands on teachers time and effort it is reasonable for there to a brief period of time where the quality or frequency of marking is reduced.

The most common workload related SLT mistakes in my experience:

  1. Thinking that if you can do something in a certain amount of time everyone can. You are probably an experienced teacher. Not everyone is. You are probably familiar with working in that particular way. Not everyone is.

  2. Introducing too many new policies at once without considering the workload impact for staff.

  3. Not considering that the impact of some new policies will be significantly greater for those that teach the most pupils (report writing for example) and that what is manageable for you may not be sustainable for everyone.

  4. Lack empathy for those struggling with workload.

  5. Introducing new policies that are not joined up or thought through properly. Changing these policies halfway through a year. Failing to acknowledge the extra work this has created.

  6. Failing to acknowledge things done out of good will. Assuming/expecting these things will continue.

  7. Failing to evaluate policies that are workload intensive. Persisting with them when they clearly are not working or are not having an impact that is proportionate to the workload requirements of the policy.


2 thoughts on “Reducing Workload

  1. Jess

    I found it strange after working in US schools that teachers covered nearly every grade level in England instead of one or two, and at the most 3 or 4. So I’d see 12th graders 4 out of 6 lessons and 11th graders the other 2, saving so much planning time. Also guaranteed free lesson for planning every day.

    I think that keeping in mind the different key stages and need to share out GCSE, A-Level, and KS3 for fairness and opening up time tables at the end of the year that a way to alleviate some workload would be to teach only 1 course at each level on a rotational basis. So I am the year 8 person, and this year I have year 10 and 13, while next year I’m still year 8, but have year 11 and 12. Needing to prepare 4 to 5 lessons for every single day is a lot, especially for new teachers or as exam boards change.


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