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Practical solutions for tackling teacher workload: evidence from schools

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Since the launch of the Workload Challenge in 2014, the government has undertaken a programme of action to help to address unnecessary workload in schools. This included the establishment of three independent review groups which produced detailed reports offering advice for teachers on marking policy, planning and teaching resources and data management.

As part of this work, the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) commissioned eleven school-based research reports to investigate practical and sustainable solutions for tackling teacher workload and provide evidence of the impact of successful workload reduction strategies in relation to data management, planning and marking.

Projects

Data management: Across the projects, a range of different approaches were taken, including the development of a bespoke tracking system, reviews of data collection practices, and use of Turnitin, an online essay hand-in platform.

Planning: The different approaches taken to tackling planning workload included introducing year group collaboration across a school network and implementing shared planning activities.

Marking: Several different approaches were taken to support the reduction of marking workload. These included using high-quality verbal marking, supporting pupil, peer and self-assessment skills and using marking symbols.


Recommendations for effective policies & factors to support the reduction of teacher workload

Based on the findings, a number of recommendations and/or ways to support workload were put forward. These included:

  • Staff need to be made aware of the purpose of data management as well as the limitations of it while offering contributions to the creation of new systems.
  • Ensure assessment reporting cycles allow adequate time to identify and support specific pupils before a new cycle begins.
  • Reduce data demands placed on multiple individuals where processes could be completed centrally and shared with relevant staff.
  • Set aside time for shared and/or collaborative planning activities, especially in the early stages - improved teacher knowledge, reduced teacher planning workload and the production of high-quality planning was found when teachers spent time in year group networks and with peers from other schools.
  • Invest in, or create, high-quality schemes of work that can then be personalised by teachers – in one project, subject leaders worked together to develop specialist subject plans within a clear planning framework for use by teachers across the three schools, resulting in a reduction in workload.
  • Ensure staff understand the school's feedback policy and where possible, include all teachers in the development of the policy - teachers should be included in the development of the feedback policy and involve pupils in their marking to encourage greater ownership and responsibility for their learning.
  • The concept of meaningful, manageable and motivational marking provides a useful guide to practice - results found that using a combination of marking 'in the moment', 'minimal marking' and 'register feedback' resulted in reduced workloads with no negative impact on pupil outcomes. Pupils' confidence, self-esteem and motivation increased as they saw their work improve.

Looking across the research projects, the findings also highlight practices which should be encouraged when developing and implementing policies and approaches to reducing teacher workload:

  • Support from the school's senior leadership team is needed to enable the successful implementation and embedding of new practices. This includes a commitment from management to ensure time is set aside for development and implementation, as well as time to review the impact of the intervention on workload and pupil outcomes.
  • School leaders and governors should ensure that the purpose of activities relating to data management, planning and marking focus on improving the quality of learning opportunities, experiences and outcomes for all pupils. The precise nature and purpose of specific interventions must be clearly communicated to, and understood by, teachers.
  • The modelling of good practice with regards to reasonable workload practices by the senior leadership team.
  • Staff should be encouraged to contribute to, and take ownership of new initiatives, and school governors, parents and pupils should be supported to understand the principles behind them.

The research also highlighted certain barriers that may hinder the implementation. These include accountability measures that place heavy workload burdens, a reluctance from SLT to allow time off for staff training, and feelings of guilt from teachers for using time-saving measures. Pressure may be felt from external sources (such as parents, governors, Ofsted) to conform to a perceived 'good practice model' of data management, planning and marking which entail time-consuming working practices.

The report concludes by emphasising that the above techniques cannot be viewed in isolation, and consideration should be given to the interaction between data management, planning and marking, and how strategies for them can be integrated. Care must also be taken to ensure that any new recommendations aimed at reducing teacher workload do not contribute, unintentionally, to increased pressure on other school teachers and leaders.

The full report, findings and recommendations can be accessed here

Further support and guidance from the Department and useful resources can be found in the new 'workload toolkit'

First published 01 August 2018