Workload is still a major concern for teachers across the country. This was confirmed once again when I recently tweeted on the subject. I received a huge number of responses.
I simply asked, 'Okay #SLT what's one thing you'll pledge to do to reduce your teachers' workload in the coming new year?’
It heartened me to see some excellent and encouraging responses from SLT members. I won’t pretend there was no negative feedback; there was. But I was able to reply positively that at Ofsted we are also doing something more.
Confronting the challenge head-on
From 12 September, we introduced a new question about workload on the school staff questionnaire that is issued during inspections.
Via the staff questionnaire, inspectors will now ask staff about whether they think:
Leaders and managers take workload into account when developing and implementing policies and procedures so as to avoid placing unnecessary burdens on staff (you may wish to expand upon this in the free text box at the end of this questionnaire).
Of course this new question to staff links with existing questions that seek views on whether everything is being done to ensure that the school has a motivated, respected and effective teaching staff.
These questions, relating to leadership support for staff, help Ofsted see whether leaders:
- support staff well in managing behaviour
- use professional development to encourage, challenge and support improvement
- have created a climate in which teachers are trusted to take risks and innovate in ways that are right for the pupils.
With the new question, we want to understand how much weight schools give to the workload implications of any changes they make. This would include, among other things, planning, use of data, marking and assessment. Does the school take these into account when planning ahead?
Inspectors will review the responses and consider what the staff think about the role of the SLT and governors in supporting them. The responses will form the basis of discussions with the SLT, as they currently do for all other answers on the questionnaire.
Inspectors will talk to school leaders about staff concerns and what actions they are taking to tackle workload. They will also feedback to school leaders where staff think they are getting this right; it’s very important that successes as well as areas for improvement are acknowledged.
However, I want to be clear that this evidence will not be a trigger for marking leaders down. Instead, it will form part of the wider picture of evidence. Inspectors may highlight concerns in the leadership and management section, but will only do so when the concerns are significant. Equally, strengths in this area will be recognised if significant.
The important thing is to provide evidence for a discussion with the SLT to ensure that these things are being considered rather than always writing a line in an inspection report.
A way forward
Last year, the Department for Education (DfE) published reports from three independent review groups. The groups looked at the biggest issues emerging from the Workload Challenge. This included recommendations aimed at reducing teachers’ workload. But the Teacher Voice Omnibus Survey published in July 2017 found that only around one fifth of school leaders have acted on these. This confirmed that unnecessary workload is still prevalent.
I am pleased that 26% of teachers have used advice from Ofsted. This may have been through the school inspection handbook, our mythbusting document or short films about Ofsted myths. The research indicated that more senior leaders than classroom teachers had used each of the methods listed in the survey. Nearly two-fifths (39%) had taken Ofsted’s advice.
While that is encouraging, we need to do more.
I know that the DfE are keen to hear about how schools are addressing workload and that they are publishing examples on their own teaching blog. In addition, the National College for Teaching and Leadership offered grant funding to help reduce workload and the outcomes of this are expected in the Spring.
Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector, has made it clear that reducing teacher work load is top of her list of things that need to be addressed in schools.
Going back to my tweet, I would ask that all senior leaders pledge what they will do – reach me on @HarfordSean through Twitter. If we work together we can turn a corner and improve the lives of teachers and in turn the pupils they teach.