June 19, 2024

Ofsted reported that I look for ways to reduce teacher workload. I didn’t contribute to either of the government’s two working groups on teacher workload nor have I asked staff to fill in the three surveys recently received. I did present to a group of headteachers but we really need teachers to put pressure on heads.

So, a blog on Teacher Workload with just a little bit of invective to moisten the readers’ way.

Like, how much over £200,000 does the Headteacher of a West London school get paid, and how many of the 29 Chief Executives of academy chains questioned by the minister, Lord Argyle take £150,000+ from already depleted budgets?

Our government has collapsed under a torrent of incompetence. All non-Brexit business has been relegated to insignificance as MPs manoeuvre to be leader of hopeless political parties. Real cuts in schools, prisons, care homes, police, youth and social work and probation services are hurting and working families are queuing at food banks. Is this what a return of sovereignty looks like? Can you vote for a party whose major achievement is to perform the unlikely feat of shooting itself in the bottom?

There is a shortage of teachers as the number of children grows. Many teachers cite workload as a reason for their intended departure from teaching. School budgets have been cut and teachers’ take home pay is less now than it was 5 years ago. Teachers are paying more towards their pensions, the benefits of which have been slashed.

In a recent blog I reported that the government includes in its statements on schools funding the amount parents pay to private schools and the money borrowed as student loans. Spending is down and costs are up.

Cutting workload may increase some costs, admin for example and certainly online resourcing. So my first “Reducing Workload” suggestion asks:

What are Chief Executives for?

The game for ageing, tiring or superior-being headteachers is to form a multi academy trust with one secondary and a couple of primary schools. Each school has a headteacher and you also have the Executive Headteacher – four heads where there used to be three, and at considerable cost.. Some of these schools are now doing less well than before executive heads. Abolish Executive Headteacher Posts and spend the money on reducing teacher workload.

Hertfordshire headteachers had their residential conference at a very nice hotel last week and a local school took its 9 strong management team there as well. I bathe in beatific righteousness as my school took 98 staff on a residential to the same hotel. Maybe we should spend less money on headteachers’ bonding and dedicate the money to the professional development of our teachers.

Every act by school managers should support the teaching of children.

I know of a local school that now has 3 deputy heads, 3 assistant heads and 2 associate heads joining the headteacher and Business Manager on their senior management/leadership team. That costs masses – around £800,000 including add on costs and the school isn’t doing very well.

Every time a school appoints a new manager they have to have people to manage, and work schedules, targets, working parties, accountability structures and whatever else justifies the job. Reduce the Size of the Senior Team, reduce the teachers’ workload and reduce spending on SMT. Spend the money on teaching resources, buns or air conditioning.

Of course, the main benefit of cutting management roles is you can also have Fewer Meetings.

I was once part of a Staff Development Working Party looking at providing good training for teachers. All the meetings produced agendas, apologies for absence and minutes explaining why nothing had been achieved. Oh, and setting the date of the next meeting which involved tedious diary discussions about their cats’ appointments and other working parties. Here’s some stuff on meetings:

The best way to kill an idea is to take it to a meeting.

Most meetings are as valuable as Snapchat post: people talk, ideas disappear into the ether with no outcomes or chance of follow up.

There are 25,000.000 million meetings every day in America (I have the source).

If you must call a meeting know what you want the result to be in advance (and make those attending put their phones away)

Read “The One Minute Manager” (Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson) which tracks an idea from first airing to eternity. An idea is mooted. The manager listens and gives the initial OK, “Set it up and come and see me in a week.” Then,“Run with it and come and see me at regular intervals to announce progress and suggest the next step.” The one minute manager as a concept gives ownership, responsibility and accountability and motivates.

I know another local school where there is an absolute “No Meetings Tuesday.” Wow! Our teachers have one meeting a week, two if they’re on SMT. At the end of the school day teachers should use our fitness suite, talk to each other, plan lessons or go home to pursue wine tasting, talking with their families and other hobbies.

I know an incredibly talented Head of Science who has to report to 3 different managers.

School leaders should Reject Directed Time and the number 1265. Be grateful if you don’t know what this means; ask why you need it if you do. A system that counts the hours teachers work in school makes no sense when most teachers spend hours working at home. It was a Tory Party creation to demean teachers and modern managers should get together in their big teams and have some meetings to discuss a possible future date for a focus group to make recommendations about its abolition. Or Take a minute…

Kenneth Baker decided that teachers should give up 5 days of their holidays to do Inset (Training) Days. With a little imagination it is possible to Do Twilight Inset where teachers spend two-hour after- school sessions replacing one whole day. Then teachers can stay at home on the same day the kids are already off school.

A short while ago I volunteered to cover 3 lessons for an absent teacher as long as I could do what I liked and did no marking. I spent hours trying to find the perfect clip to accompany my exuberant delivery of poetry ranging from WW1 to “Why do men piss on the floor?” I think the poem is called “Bogerell.” I had songs and Youtube to accompany Vietnam war politics and I was well pleased with myself. Hours and hours planning for perfection only to be shot to pieces by lesson 3 when the students asked if they could get on with their written assignment.

Don’t waste your precious time looking for the Perfect Lesson, the cascading colourful graphics of the Perfect Powerpoint, and Share / Steal / Borrow Resources from colleagues, forums and the internet. Someone really has already done it better.

Lesson Plans are a guide for teachers, not a bureaucratic power tool for headteachers eating up their time on busy work.

As an English teacher I brought home my own height in exercise books every weekend and I wrote unread comments on hundreds of pieces of work. I used to enjoy the kid who was absent and produced no work and I loved writing “Finish please” in obvious places. Today, I tell teachers to get written work done in class and to mark as they walk around. There are loads of ways of reducing marking whilst helping the students do better.

This is brilliant: http://chauncystweb.co.uk/marking/

In 1967, Butch Hurrell took delight in correcting my essay on Sweden. 54 times he circled my incorrect spelling – Sweeden. If only he had done In Class Marking he might have read the rest of the essay.

A few final thoughts:

We have abolished all words on our termly School Reports and, apart from being better written, they are easily understood.

Publicly castigate any teacher who sends Evening Emails, unless they are funny.

I know that some of these things are done in all schools, much in many and some in all. Teaching should however, be too exciting, stimulating, rewarding and fun to be left to the knackered teacher and the weary teacher cannot inspire for long. Children need them alive.

Dennis O’Sullivan

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