Keeping teachers’ workload down

Written by: Jane Girle | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Simplicity is the key to minimising the workload pressure keenly felt by teachers, says executive headteacher Jane Girle. She discusses how she is addressing the issue at her school

Up and down the country, the issue of workload continues to fill staffroom discussions. Lesson-planning, marking and report-writing are just some of the tasks that many teachers are grappling with. But I believe that it is possible for heads to help reduce the burden felt by staff.

By introducing clear guidance, together we can ensure a healthy work/life balance for all. Here is how we are striving to achieve this in our school.

A sensible approach to data

Data-recording was cited as one of the biggest bugbears of the teaching profession in the Workload Challenge consultation undertaken by the Department for Education. I often wonder whether we have really examined how much data we actually need to record, and if we are recording it in the most effective way possible.

Now that we are able to measure achievement how we wish, I have seen many schools opt for systems that are essentially levels in all but name. The temptation then, is to carry on recording the progress of pupils in terms of points progress. This is not only onerous for classroom teachers having to update systems regularly, but also for the school’s senior leadership team who is responsible for analysing the data.

The removal of levels has given schools the opportunity to finally leave this step-by-step monitoring behind. Instead, it is the process of teaching and learning itself that provides a clear indication of whether a child is making the required progress.

We encourage evidence of progress to come from a child’s books first and foremost. These books also give senior leaders clear evidence of whether the feedback children are receiving is having an impact on pupils’ learning and, if not, this is where we can step in to help.

We hold pupil progress meetings with teaching teams every term. Work in the children’s books is viewed alongside data and information from an assessment tool we use that gives us a shared language for talking about Mastery and scaffolding for Mastery. Together, we decide what else needs to be done to improve their reading or help them with their times tables, for example.

Do not misunderstand me though. I am a huge proponent in the use of data and our management information system (MIS) is a critical tool in understanding how we are performing as a school or spotting if individuals or groups of children are progressing as we expect.

However, I think that data is most effective when there has been a good gap between the last entry (we do it once a term), so the progress measure is actually meaningful. Anything less and you could be recording changes that really are not that relevant – such as those resulting from a child’s absence due to illness.

I also think our approach to data makes it easier for our staff too. We set aside some time in professional learning sessions for staff to work on data input. These sessions also serve to update teachers on how the MIS works so we know that when they do need to analyse data, they know exactly how to use the tools and it is a quick process.

In addition, we made the decision to introduce tablets across the school. The tablets make data entry easy as teachers can do it as they go about their classroom activities – even recording comments about a pupil’s progress using the voice-to-text functionality of our iPads. All these changes have ensured data remains what it should be – an unbiased source of critical information for our teaching and leadership staff.

The right kind of meetings

Assessment aside, there are a number of other procedures that help minimise workload pressure on staff. We are sensible about the number of meetings we have. We don’t hold a professional learning session during the same week as parents’ evening, for example. We avoid weekly middle and senior leadership meetings. Instead, apart from weekly meetings where we focus on teaching and learning, we only get together when there is a need to get together, such as meeting to discuss strategic priorities for the coming year.

To help with communication and “any place, any time learning”, the school has a CPD blog which includes information on past professional learning. It allows individual members of staff to revisit topics at their leisure and ensures that when we do meet, we can cover new topics.

We also minimise the length of appraisal meetings by encouraging staff to upload evidence for their appraisals to our MIS. The use of technology saves time as teachers no longer have to remember to gather information ahead of our meeting. Middle leaders are no longer required to chase teachers or search for bits of paper and can review the content before the meeting. This process means we all feel there is less preparation to do and the meeting is much more focused when it takes place. Draft objectives can be entered into the system at any time too.

Keeping it in perspective

An impending Ofsted inspection is all too often associated with staff having to stay late updating records, lesson plans and creating multiple reports. But I firmly believe that an inspection should not result in staff being asked to do any additional work. If we are working efficiently, we really should not be left with outstanding tasks to complete ahead of an inspector’s arrival.

Our emphasis on monitoring progress via children’s books means that teachers are informally assessing pupils every single day and using that knowledge to inform their teaching. Nothing changes when an Ofsted inspector arrives, and I strongly believe nothing should change.

All classroom teachers are able to explain to myself, our leadership team or Ofsted how any of their pupils are performing and what interventions might be in place. The books provide the proof that is needed as to whether these strategies are working. I believe that with the right curriculum, a strong teaching model and a clear feedback policy, the children’s books can replace the more frequent data recording tasks that can take place in many schools.

And yes, the data is important too – it is all in one place and can be used in many ways for different stakeholder groups. If we take reading, for example, we will discuss the latest research and show staff the latest programmes of study data we have collated from the last assessment point using visual graphs that bring the figures to life. It means that when Ofsted arrives, everyone is able to interpret the figures and how they have informed their classroom practice as it is a task they regularly undertake to support their teaching. I think the key thing is to record and analyse the information that helps your pupils and your school, and that should be exactly what Ofsted needs to look at too.

Conclusion

Workload is an issue that can have an impact on all aspects of school life. The three Workload Challenge working group reports, published in March by the Department for Education (see below), set out recommendations for teachers, leaders and governors. As headteachers, I feel we can introduce small but significant changes that can ease the burden felt by staff.

  • Jane Girle is executive head of Penn Wood Primary and Nursery School, which uses the SIMS management information system.

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