The famous JFK inauguration speech encouraged Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country“. An almost typically American message of independence and self-reliance, but words which resonated more widely.
Nicky Morgan probably wouldn’t get away with the same sort of message, not least because her department has a lot to answer for when it comes to workload, especially in recent years. But the point is salient. Much of the workload that exists in schools exists only because we make it.
The DfE actually has fairly limited control over what happens in any given school; Ofsted has gone to some considerable lengths to try to reduce its impact on workload; what remains is a doubt and fear in schools that we can really break free. From here on in, if we want to see a reduction of workload, then it is schools who are going to have to lead the way.
The department tried to give some direction with the publication earlier this year of its three workload reports. True, they got it wrong by publishing them in the Easter holidays, but there were some useful pointers in them and some key points that are worth holding onto when looking at what we do in schools.
We believe that three principles underpin effective marking: it should be meaningful, manageable and motivating
Senior leaders and governors are responsible for the effective deployment of all resources in the school. They should take into account the hours teachers spend on marking and have regard to the work-life balance of their staff.
Feedback can take the form of spoken or written marking, peer marking and self-assessment. If the hours spent do not have the commensurate impact on pupil progress: stop it
Planning a sequence of lessons is more important than writing individual lesson plans
SLT should review demands made on teachers in relation to planning to ensure that minimum requirements to be effective are made
Formative assessment data should not routinely be collected at school level, because of the additional burden it creates
Summative data should not normally be collected more than three times a year per pupil
The trouble with reports like these, is that often they are quite bland, and written in department-speak, when what school leaders want to know is what other schools are doing that works, and how are people ensuring that reducing workload doesn’t impact on quality of provision. It’s why I always have the aim to do less, but better.
I’ve tried to share specific examples of my own, including an outline of my school’s new feedback policy. I wrote recently too about the risk of burdensome school reports that don’t warrant the time spent on them.
Perhaps one of the most effective ways that we can all help to reduce one another’s workload is by sharing what we’ve found works so that we can learn from each other rather than reinventing the wheel. Taking pride in ways in which we’ve reduced teachers’ work, rather than only in those which demonstrate how hard we are working.
But what we must not do is wait for the Department for Education to solve these problems for us. They’ve got enough to sort out!
Ask yourself not how the DfE is going to reduce your workload this year, but what you can do as a school to reduce workload yourselves.
I’ll be speaking in more detail about my school’s approach to feedback – and a policy that tackles the problems of ‘evidence’ for external observers – at the Rising Stars Eliminating Unnecessary Workload conference in September