Who’d be a politician, eh?
You get the blame for everything, and yet relatively little power to do much about it.
It seems that the response to the Workload Challenge has not been received with great joy… but then, was it ever going to be? The results of the survey speak for themselves. Over 40,000 teachers responded, and the two biggest drivers of workload according to those responses? Ofsted and School Leaders, neither of which are directly within the control of the department.
The two most often-mentioned tasks that added to workload? Excessive data and excessive marking. No prizes for guessing who the main drivers of those excessive demands are.
One has to ask what people were really looking for from the DfE in response to these challenges.
The reality is that the DfE had tasked itself with a mission of improving something that it really couldn’t control. It’s true, they’ve worked with Ofsted to take some small steps to try to alleviate that problem, continuing in an existing vein, but they have gone to some lengths over recent years to stop micro-managing school leaders.
The sad truth for teachers is that the vast majority of the excessive workload we suffer is caused by school leaders, trying to dance to the tune of an inadequate and inconsistent inspectorate.
So what of the proposals from the response? When taken in the context of what the department can actually control, it’s a mixed bag.
Some things to welcome:
- Minimum lead-in times for major changes – one of the worst things about the current government’s approach has been its endless rush to change things, without any thought about the impact on schools, or any preparation itself for implementation.
- No changes to examination subjects during a course cycle – it’s frankly a disgrace that this would even ever be in doubt, but certainly a relief to see that it’s here.
- Commitment to improved Quality Assurance for Ofsted reports – a major issue, although QA for the whole Ofsted process is probably just as necessary
- Focus on coaching of headteachers – too many of the workload demands in our schools are caused by ineffective school leaders trying to cover all bases with paperwork. We need to support good headteachers more effectively, and challenge weaker ones.
- Work with the EEF to link research to more practical advice about implementation – feedback has become king on the back of research, but is too often interpreted as “more marking”. We need more direction for schools – especially those with weak leaders – on what these things look like.
- DfE taking a closer look at data collection and analysis challenges – it’s an on-going challenge, again driven by Ofsted and weak leaders, so evidence of effective practice that isn’t unmanageable should be welcomed.
Some missed opportunities:
- The minimum lead-in times have too many caveats, and significantly leave out the key elements of assessment; assessment is such a driver in schools now that the lead-in time should include it and all parts of policy. I’d also have liked to have seen a longer period, and much higher expectations that no changes are made that affect students within a key stage. No change is that important educationally; it’s only politics that forces the rush.
- It’s a shame that there isn’t a role for Ofsted in providing good practice evidence of manageability of workload; the department can say all it likes about workload, but until the inspectorate is singing from the same hymn sheet, schools will still feel compelled to produce more and more paperwork to satiate any of the random selection of inspectors they might be faced with.
So, no, the department won’t get praise from every quarter – they never would have. But we’ve made some small steps of progress, and it seems that there is a genuine understanding that this is a serious issue that needs tackling. As professionals we have a duty to begin to get our own house in order, but certainly as a member of the Teacher Reference Group I’ll also be pushing for workload to remain on the department’s agenda, and to see more changes in the future.
At least we’re heading in the right direction.