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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9 thoughts on “Platitudes don’t reduce workload

  1. grahamlobb 16 April 2017 at 9:40 pm Reply

    I agree with all you say. I’m a relatively new HT – and you will be a new one I believe in September….. what steps will you take then to reduce the workload of your staff?
    (FWIW I looked at planning once in my first month-to get a view – I’ve re-written the feedback policy; reduced observations; given additional time for key tasks; taken some admin tasks away…..)

    • Michael Tidd 16 April 2017 at 9:52 pm Reply

      It’s a good point and a fair question. Truth is, though, that at this stage I don’t know what I can or will do, as I don’t yet know what the workload burdens are for teachers in my future school. But that’s the key: any decisions should be based on the situation the school is in, not on trying to second guess what Ofsted might approve of!

  2. mjlstories 17 April 2017 at 11:41 am Reply

    I agree with much of what you say about workload. Perhaps the additional part of the equation that is overlooked is autonomy. I recently left teaching after 30 or so years. I’ve always worked hard for every hour spent actually teaching but year on year I’ve been told more and more what to do, when and where to store it. Longitudinal stress studies in the civil service found it wasn’t the managers who suffered most stress but a work force with high work load but low autonomy.

    • Michael Tidd 17 April 2017 at 11:43 am Reply

      I think there’s a good deal of truth in that. I’m generally in agreement with Pink’s arguments that we desire autonomy, purpose and mastery.
      Much of the managerialism of recent years has damaged at least two of those.

  3. Whatever Next 18 April 2017 at 4:15 am Reply

    Very thought-provoking! Thank you.

  4. cwhelan73 19 April 2017 at 9:12 am Reply

    I have put on yoga for my teachers as a way to show them I value them… as well as looking constantly at workload. I think we should do both… put on activities for free… and reduce workload.

    • Michael Tidd 19 April 2017 at 1:15 pm Reply

      But I don’t like Yoga. Will you pay for me to go to the pub instead?

  5. […] Platitudes don’t reduce workload, by Michael […]

  6. Jim Sison 21 May 2017 at 11:04 am Reply

    I totally agree with all this. My mom is a retired Physical Education professor. The stress that she gets through the rigorous physical activities daily are plenty enough, not to mention that, and as you stated, that closing the door of the school at 6 PM doesn’t mean the workload stops as she often needs to bring home tasks and create a lesson plan at home. Their school gave each instructors a massage cushion. Those with those huge pimple like cushion to help each teachers relax while in the office. It did give some comfort when seating down. As well, they have free yoga lessons once a week. Which your post reminded me of. Keep up the good work. These are very informative.

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