Thursday, July 20, 2017

Reducing teacher workload

Last week I had 2 reunions in London - the first one was with friends I started teaching with in the UK over 30 years ago, and the second one was with a group of friends I was a school with over 40 years ago - many of whom had gone into education.  With the first reunion, one of our "team" couldn't make it as it was a week day and she was still teaching - the others have all left teaching altogether or have stepped back to volunteering or working part-time.  With the second reunion, many friends are also reducing their days and saying "just one more year" and planning for retirement (though we are about 10 years short of retirement age).  And yet, on the BBC news yesterday I heard that the retirement age in the UK is going up again to 68, and a teacher who appeared to be in her late 30s or early 40s was interviewed and said she just did not think she could work as a full-time primary teacher until date where she could claim a pension.  Over and over again, both in the UK and from friends in international schools around the world, I hear that workload is an issue.

Digging a little deeper studies show that the number of hours teachers are working has increased significantly over the past 3 years, and that this is driving both teachers and school leaders to leave the profession.  I've read similar reports about young teachers leaving after only a few years too, also because of workload and mental health issues.  The UK government's teacher workload survey, published earlier this year, shows teachers work an average of 54.4 hours a week, and senior leaders work around 62 hours a week.  And yet still, during a taxi journey earlier this week, my driver was quipping about me being able to spend so much time with mum this summer (basically my whole summer has been spent supporting her as she has dementia) because of the short hours/long holidays that teachers enjoy!

This morning I read the Guardian online article about tips to help schools reduce teacher workload.  The article is obviously focused on the UK, with quotes from teachers, headteachers, consultants and union reps, however I thought it would be useful to summarise the main points.

  1. Ask teachers for feedback - for example through workload surveys
  2. Set reasonable expectations for what is expected outside of the school day
  3. Simplify processes such as planning, record keeping and feedback
  4. Take the admin out of lessons - in particular reduce the paperwork involved in lesson plans, marking and reporting
  5. Reflect on whether time is being used in the most effective way
  6. Track progress - plot the hours spent on work outside the classroom and plan for the busy times by cutting other things out
I can identify with many of these.  Certainly there is a lot of "busy work" expected, and I'm always concerned when time is spent on lengthy student assessments and reporting that doesn't then lead to a change in teaching to address the trends noticed in such assessments, or lengthy lesson plans and document writing that is never really looked at again.  

What other suggestions would you have to reduce teacher workload?

Photo Credit: jenni from the block Flickr via Compfight cc

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