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.