Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Use Simple Techniques to Lighten the Load

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Use Simple Techniques to Lighten the Load

Article excerpt

Teachers' lives are being blighted by punishing working practices. Until policy evolves, relieve the burden with these practical steps

Teachers talk about work-life balance as if it's a distant dream, equivalent to a lottery win. It's no surprise: the old stereotype of teachers' short days and long holidays has been replaced by the harsh reality of punishing working weeks of 50 hours and then some.

Fortunately, politicians seem to have realised that the problem has become critical. The government launched its Workload Challenge on the TES website last October, asking teachers to submit workload problems and possible solutions. Whether this is a case of political opportunism in the long shadow of a general election or something that will result in practical changes is not yet clear, but it is an opportunity nonetheless.

Action is certainly needed, and quickly: stress is endemic in the working lives of teachers and it is costing both schools and students. A government study conducted between October 2011 and January 2013 (bit.ly/SicknessStudy) found that 35 per cent of work absences related to "mild to moderate mental health disorders". Too many teachers are drowning in work and the related stress it creates.

So what is at the root of the problem? First, our punitive accountability system and the Ofsted behemoth. The corrosive effect of worrying about a poor inspection drives schools into the bureaucratic meltdown of bloated lesson plans, excessive marking policies, "mocksteds" and worse, all of which are driving teachers towards burnout.

This is compounded by a culture of managerialism. By this I mean target-obsessed management systems that insist on substantial data from teachers every few weeks at the expense of actual teaching. The issue is exacerbated by performance-related pay policies that demand reams of paperwork.

Is there a solution to these issues? Policy changes could certainly help, but schools and teachers can employ plenty of simple approaches, too.

School actions

Create a teacher workload policy

One simple solution is for the senior leadership team to reflect on the impact of every decision. Does the effort undertaken have a proportionate effect on student outcomes? What is being dropped to make way for the new initiative?

Leadership decisions should focus on the Pareto principle, which says that 80 per cent of our impact is derived from 20 per cent of our actions. We should zero in on the 20 per cent and remove any work that proves a distraction.

Devise high-impact marking and planning policies

Feedback and good planning are essential for effective teaching but we should still reduce the time we give to these elements as long as it doesn't damage their positive impact. A good marking policy ensures that teachers don't mark everything. It should stress the value of effective strategies, like peer- and self-assessment, that can reduce workload and improve learning. The same pragmatic and flexible approach should apply to lesson planning.

Improve CPD

One of the main reasons why teachers are so overloaded is because they often work in isolation. It is essential that schools ensure their teachers can take part in collaborative planning and put training into practice.

Adopt intelligent accountability

Avoid the stress created by a culture of perpetual fear. If Ofsted is jettisoning lesson observation gradings, then so should we. …

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