Monthly Archives: April 2017

Platitudes don’t reduce workload

There’s no denying that workload remains a significant issue in our profession.  However, the solutions are not to be found in platitudes and pleasantries.

Two popular solutions have cropped up this weekend and both need dropping.

The first is slightly tangential, and focuses in theory on wellbeing. The problem with that is that the biggest threat to teachers’ wellbeing is workload. Reduce the workload, you’ll reduce the issue.

The TES ran a column this week that include ideas such as laughing yoga and ‘star of the week’. Now, if ‘star of the week’ is the sort of thing that floats your boat, then knock yourself out. Personally, I’d find it cringy or patronising. Similarly, with yoga, if that’s for you, then great. As a way of improving my wellbeing, it reminds me of the course I attended as an NQT where we were told that massage would be a good relaxation technique, before being paired up with complete strangers to practice massage techniques. I assure you, I did not feel relaxed!

If teachers want to use yoga to find inner peace and relaxation, then wouldn’t the best thing we could do as schools be to ensure that teachers have enough time left in their week to attend yoga classes in their own time?

The second solution which comes up every now and then is the barmy notion that Ofsted should judge schools on how they reduce workload. Can you imagine the nonsense of it?

As I’ve said before, in recent years Ofsted has done a good job of clarifying its expectations (both for schools and inspectors), so it is now rarely the cause of the problem.

However, Ofsted cannot be the solution either. Excessive workload is often a matter of weak leadership. Confident headteachers will make decisions about policies on things like marking, data and planning which focus on benefit for pupils in relation to time and effort costs, which align with the recommendations of the DfE’s workload reports. That’s great. But where weak leaders fail to follow such guidance, they’re also likely to get it wrong when it comes to Ofsted judging their efforts.

A poor headteacher who thinks that draconian marking or planning policies are useful, is just the sort of headteacher who might think that locking up the school at 5pm every night is a helpful workload-reduction technique. Just because you can’t be in the building doesn’t make that workload disappear, but it might appear a good strategy at first glance.

The problem is, with all the best intentions, as soon as you make a measurable goal of reducing workload, you actually create a task of headteachers being seen to act on workload. The school who never had a bonkers policy gets no credit, while the crazy head who insists on scrutinising every lesson plan gets to claim that he’s made it easier by allowing you to upload them rather than print them in triplicate.

As my TES column last autumn was headed: Want to reduce workload? Reduce work.

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KS2 Writing: Moderated & Unmoderated Results

After the chaos of last year’s writing assessment arrangements, there have been many questions hanging over the results, one of which has been the difference between the results of schools which had their judgements moderated, and those which did not.

When the question was first raised, I was doubtful that it would show much difference. Indeed, back in July when questioned about it, I said as much:

At the time, I was of the view that LAs each trained teachers in their own authorities about how to apply the interim frameworks, and so most teachers within an LA would be working to the same expectations. As a result, while variations between LAs were to be expected (and clearly emerged), the variation within each authority should be less.

At a national level, it seems that the difference is relatively small. Having submitted Freedom of Information Requests to 151 Local Authorities in England, I now have responses from all but one of them. Among those results, the differences are around 3-4 percentage points:

moderated

Now, these results are not negligible, but it is worth bearing in mind that Local Authorities deliberately select schools for moderation based on their knowledge of them, so it may be reasonable to presume that a larger number of lower-attaining schools might form part of the moderated group.

The detail that has surprised me is the variation between authorities in the consistency of their results. Some Local Authority areas have substantial differences between the moderated and unmoderated schools. As Helen Ward has reported in her TES article this week, the large majority of authorities have results which were lower in moderated schools. Indeed, in 11 authorities, the difference is 10 or more percentage points for pupils working at the Expected Standard. By contrast, in a small number, it seems that moderated schools have ended up with higher results than their unmoderated neighbours.

What can we learn from this? Probably not a great deal that we didn’t already know. It’s hard to blame the Local Authorities: they can’t be responsible for the judgements made in schools they haven’t visited, and nor is it their fault that we were all left with such an unclear and unhelpful assessment system. All this data highlights is the chaos we all suffered – and may well suffer again in 2017.

To see how your Local Authority results compare, view the full table* of data here. It shows the proportions of pupils across the LA who were judged as working at the Expected and Greater Depth Standards in both moderated and unmoderated schools.


*Liverpool local authority claimed a right not to release their data on the grounds of commercial sensitivity, which I am appealing. I fully expect this to be released in due course and for it to be added here.