Workload reduction: What will 2019 bring?

Written by: Suzanne O'Connell | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

In 2019 there will be a new Ofsted framework, the introduction of a mental maths test and the return of Baseline Assessment is on the horizon. So what hope for Damian Hinds’ pledge to support schools to tackle workload?

It is a new year and a new school term and with it come continued pledges from the government to address the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. A House of Commons briefing paper published in December states that the government is aware of workload as “the most frequently cited reason for teachers wanting to leave the profession”.

The interim findings of Ofsted’s Teacher Wellbeing and Workload Survey (November 2018) indicate that 48 per cent of the teachers surveyed said they worked in their free time every day and 70 per cent of senior leaders stated that they did this too. Workload was one of the most frequently mentioned negative influences on mental and physical health along with pupil behaviour and marking.

With the evidence stacking up, school leaders were sent a letter in November signed by education secretary Damian Hinds, Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman, the NAHT and ASCL among others, pledging to support them in the task of workload reduction.

The letter directs school leaders to the Department for Education’s (DfE) Workload Reduction Toolkit for advice on how to do this.

A more recent report, Making data work (November 2018), makes further recommendations that the DfE has quickly agreed to comply with and has promoted to schools.

However, 2019 will not be without its challenges for school leaders bent on workload reduction. A number of key changes are already set to take place for schools, including a new Ofsted framework from September 2019, the introduction of the tables test, and from September the piloting of the Reception Baseline. School leaders might question whether this commitment to workload reduction can actually be put into practice with so much change to prepare for.

Reviews and advice

There is no shortage of workload reduction material to read through. In March 2016, the government’s Workload Review Group published three documents that provided suggestions for how schools could reduce the workload associated with data, planning and marking.

In 2018, the workload rhetoric was ramped up as ministers seemed finally to accept the reality of the teacher retention and recruitment crisis and the role that excessive workload has played in this.

The DfE produced Ways to reduce workload in your school (July 2018) which provides a number of tips and case studies. Also in July 2018, the DfE published the Workload Reduction Toolkit, which includes a variety of materials such as sample policies, PowerPoint presentations and links to additional resources that might be used with staff.

Much of the material focuses on looking at schools’ current practices, how much time they take and whether they are worth the effort. It is suggested that the school community looks for inefficient, ineffective or unreliable practice, and weeds it out.

Another look at workload was taken at the end of 2018, this time by the DfE’s Workload Advisory Group. Making data work makes a number of recommendations:

  • Avoiding performance management discussions that are based on assessment data for a single group of pupils.
  • Having no more than two or three data collection points across the academic year.
  • Using simple systems to record behaviour incidents, detentions and other pastoral information.
  • Being selective about the behaviour incidents schools record (i.e. not every minor incident should be recorded).
  • Reviewing parent communication to avoid burdensome additional requirements.

The setting of attainment targets for pupils is also challenged as potentially being demotivating, with recommendations that alternative models might be tried. The implication is that target-setting might have contributed to the increase in mental health difficulties for pupils.

The DfE has announced that it accepts all the recommendations in full. With this official endorsement, school leaders might begin to filter out the unnecessary and streamline their practices. The challenge for many will be how to do this without increasing the meeting and training burden for staff in the short term. It will also be a challenge to keep meeting time and additional work to a minimum when other changes are taking place.

Changes ahead in 2019

In January we saw the launch of the long-awaited consultation on the new Ofsted Framework, which is to be introduced in September 2019. As soon as this consultation published there was undoubtedly speculation about what exactly schools should expect. The final inspection framework and handbook is due to be published in "summer 2019", Ofsted tells us. This leaves little time for schools to prepare.

With every new Ofsted framework comes additional workload – a situation that the unions are well aware of and this has already led them to appeal against any rushed introduction. The National Association of Head Teachers has warned that there isn’t “enough time to introduce change of the magnitude being suggested”.

In particular it is the new judgement – “quality of education” – that is causing concern among the unions. The National Education Union questions whether there is sufficient time for Ofsted inspectors to have the necessary training to enable them to make reliable judgements on the curriculum.

Ofsted has responded by claiming that the 2019 framework will “be underpinned by more evidence and research than any in Ofsted’s history”. They are not to be delayed. For the latest, see Ofsted's 'curriculum conversations'.

The academic year 2019/20 will see all primary schools required to implement the new multiplication tables check. Information has recently been published to help those preparing the assessment material. Although it has been well-advertised that the test will be conducted online with scores automatically generated, it is still another new test to implement.

The highly controversial Baseline assessment is due to be introduced in autumn 2020. This will mean training and preparation will hit primary schools during the next academic year. What we know so far is that teachers will record the results and that a large-scale voluntary pilot will begin in September 2019.

It is difficult to see how this collection of initiatives can sit alongside workload reduction...

Workload advice

However, there is plenty of advice out there as part of the different reports and toolkits. A school’s ability to implement this guidance could depend on its last Ofsted judgement, its budget and context, of course. The main themes include:

  • Be aware of what’s produced and how this is affecting your staff’s time.
  • Look critically at policies, such as marking, to consider whether the expectations are realistic or not.
  • Considering who the audience for tasks really is and whether tasks are necessary. Ofsted points schools to its myth-busting document. It also emphasises that it does not need to see data in specific formats.
  • Focus on what is actually useful and beneficial from a teaching point of view and what’s not.
  • Aim to use technology to reduce, not add to, workload.
  • Be more selective with timetabling of meetings, data collection points and target-setting.
  • Act as a filter for staff when it comes to new initiatives/change.
  • Have a more equal distribution of tasks across the year.
  • Provide opportunities for staff collaboration, e.g. through the timetabling of PPA, and provide access to high-quality resources.
  • Check that planning and data-production isn’t duplicated.

Further information

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