The Department for Education are consulting at the moment on the causes of teacher workload, presumably with a view to implementing some sort of effort to reduce it. While I want to laud the department for its efforts, I also feel that they’ll be largely fruitless. Not least because very rarely is the department itself responsible for matters of workload.
Of course people will point out that changes to the curriculum and examination boards come with the own workload, and I don’t disagree. But I also can’t see any value in arguing that these things should never change. And true, perhaps the pace and frequency of change is at fault, and so well worth reporting to the DfE.
However, as far as I can see, the real drivers of workload are not policy decisions from the department, but rather the practices of the inspectorate, and particularly its determination to see evidence.
There has been plenty of talk over the last couple of years on evidence in education, from Ben Goldacre to Tom Bennett’s ResearchEd. New approaches to evidence should be welcomed in our profession. But what I’d really like to see is a new approach to evidencing. That is, I’d like to see a change to the current situation where the action of providing evidence for actions is valued more highly than the impact of such actions. The act of evidencing work has become more highly rated than the evidence itself.
Across the country, schools implement policies to protect themselves from the wrath of Ofsted by demonstrating actions. Differentiation is not just based on the needs of the class, but on the need for it to be seen by observers. It is no longer enough for a teacher to adapt their teaching to the needs of pupils; rather it must be evidenced using 3 or 5 differentiated tasks, or sections on a lesson plan.
Feedback has ceased to be about “information given to the learner and/or the teacher about the learner’s performance”, but instead has become about evidencing feedback through marking dialogue and endless volumes of red pen. Verbal feedback might be most effective, but is only permitted if evidenced by a stamp or annotation (or increasingly, both!)
It’s not enough to manage behaviour effectively and deal with misbehaviour appropriately when it arises; the process must now be evidenced for inspectors to examine should they wish.
Progress is no longer a matter of ensuring that children achieve the most from their learning, but rather of evidencing that they have completed more of the long march through the sub-levels. The new consultation on performance descriptors serves only to show that all the talk of school-led assessment is soon replaced by the need for evidenced outcomes.
Of course, whether or not any of these things are intended by the department is beside the point. All the time Ofsted are criticizing schools for failing to evidence things, or praising those schools who excel at producing evidence, other school leaders will feel compelled to continue to demand that work be evidenced.
Regardless of what the educational evidence says.
 This is the explanation of ‘feedback’ at the very useful EEF Toolkit page, which also states that feedback should be given “sparingly so that it is meaningful”. Not sure how that fits with Ofsted’s current approach!