The Department for Education (DfE) guidance Ways to Reduce Workload in Your Schools commences with a pertinent commendation - that it only takes 15 minutes to read. Given the subject matter, this is welcome and hopefully recognition of the time pressures on a school leader.
It's not our purpose here to reproduce the contents of the guidance or related documents, such as the Workload Reduction Toolkit. They are genuinely self-explanatory short reads, and the latter was the subject of earlier NAHT advice. Instead, our aim is to give some pointers on the significance of the guidance and to offer some next steps.
The guidance itself focuses on some key activities where workload reduction can be focused, for example, feedback and marking, curriculum planning, communications and performance management.
What is striking is the questioning approach to existing ways of working that is being encouraged. This is an important shift – it encourages school leaders to make time to step off the treadmill and ask the important and incisive questions about workload. It means stopping to pause, to reflect, to get back to the core educational objectives, and to rethink what activities are essential to support and achieve them. What works well? What can be streamlined? What activities can the school realistically cease?
The guidance is important as it builds on the premise that workload is something that can be monitored, measured and, ultimately, managed. It gives school leaders a green light to re-establish control over areas that have drifted and perhaps been lost in a drive for data.
- Galvanise the governing body by briefing lead governors on the DfE guidance and get workload established as an ongoing strategic issue
- Work with your SLT on drafting a workload policy document for endorsement by the governing body
- Devise a strategy that includes an incremental approach prioritising key areas to be addressed
- If things work well already, acknowledge this, and don't change for change’s sake
- Make sure you communicate to all staff and wider stakeholders (eg parents on marking policies) to get an understanding and buy-in to any need for change and new practices
- Implement and review the impact on workload for each area
- Report progress to governors on a regular basis and keep the initiative 'alive', perhaps using a new streamlined headteacher's report.
Some final thoughts
The DfE has given school leaders permission to address the critical issue of workload. Seize the initiative and get it firmly planted on your school agenda, and keep it there for as long as is necessary.
This article is available to NAHT members only.