Heavy workload is a huge problem for teachers and, if left unmanaged, it can have a serious impact on their mental and physical health. For many, it can be the reason behind a decision to leave the profession altogether.
To help support and retain the staff in your school, you should look to remove unnecessary workload and allow teachers to focus on teaching and their own development – the following tips can help you achieve this.
Ask staff to review their current workload and provide feedback, either anonymously, e.g. through questionnaires or a post-box, or in meetings if you and your staff feel comfortable doing so. Ensure that whichever method you choose is not threatening and provides an opportunity to build actions around the areas of concern.
Every teacher is different; they have different home lives, work-habits and triggers for anxiety, so you should differentiate your approach to work-life balance. After you have collated feedback, you can learn more about your staff and ensure whole-school decisions are made for their benefit.
Some teachers will prefer to spend non-contact time at school with access to hardware and resources, while others may prefer space away from pupils and distractions. While allocating slots for PPA activities, consider those that would benefit from working at home, or having their slots rotated termly. Giving staff the flexibility to change their non-contact time slot takes away pressure and prevents their time from being stopped abruptly, e.g. because of meetings or lesson preparation.
Minimise written outcomes
Review your current feedback practices and consider why you are marking; ask yourself whether the current amount of feedback is necessary, meaningful, manageable and motivating. The current time that staff spend on marking may not be proportionate; not all feedback needs to be written so teachers should look to find effective alternatives.
Reducing written feedback will not affect the quality of pupils’ work; by ensuring concise written feedback is only provided when necessary, teachers’ time and effort can be focussed on making a difference to pupils’ development.
Consider giving ‘live feedback’ to pupils, whereby teachers look at books during lessons and provide immediate feedback. Books can still be collected regularly by teachers to ensure they are read and the work is checked – these checks can be used as a basis for lesson plans that are adapted to pupils’ needs.
In-class feedback can also be provided through questioning and quizzes; these provide the opportunity to give whole-class feedback during every lesson.
Pupils should still be informed regularly of their progress and how they can improve, and those doing well should continue to be rewarded for their achievements.
You should develop a Communications Policy and consider reviewing whether your current communications procedures are having a positive impact on workload. The policy should be planned around key points in the year – determine which areas of the school generate the most paper/forms and decide whether alternative systems can be used.
Staff meeting times should be reduced and planned efficiently. Make sure staff are provided with clear start and finish times, flexibility and that meetings focus on teaching to make the best use of time. Emails can also be used to replace a couple of meetings; however, you should ensure that face-to-face contact is not completely substituted – try to determine what works for different members of staff. Occasional virtual meetings can be conducted too, to allow staff to access information at a time that suits them.
You could set times between which staff should not check, send or reply to work emails, with the exception of urgent needs (e.g. safeguarding). Your Communications Policy should detail these times and that all emails should have headings depicting their level of urgency.
Communication with parents is just as important, and you should consider using a variety of communication channels – a short email or text may be just as appropriate as a phone call, and a phone call could be used to replace a face-to-face meeting. Apps or software can be used to send reminders home, e.g. for collecting payments, saving teachers time when chasing up late responses.
Explore alternatives to the written reports that are usually sent home to parents; assess the time and impact of your current practice and consider how reports could be more succinct and meaningful.
You can also consider reviewing the number and effectiveness of parental events – look at the impact they are having on pupil progress as well as the number of parents attending. This can help you decide on the amount of supervision required and create a rota to reduce the number of events that each member of staff needs to attend.
Plan the curriculum
Evaluate your curriculum planning and consider whether your existing schemes are clear in relation to pupil progress and attainment, fully resourced with high-quality materials, and planned over well-defined blocks of time.
When planning new schemes of work, or revising current ones, ensure that you choose high-quality resources to allow staff to carry out their roles easily and effectively – these resources should always be accessible. Try to timetable PPA at a common time; you can create a shared drive through which staff can work on the same document at the same time, making it easier to organise and make the best use of resources. Encourage collaborative working between the staff in your school, and other schools in your local area; this provides an opportunity to share and distribute workload.
You can also consider removing paper-based homework planners – upload homework to an online platform that can be viewed by teachers, pupils and staff, thus reducing printing costs and the potential of a lost homework sheet.
Review performance and provide support
You should review and streamline your performance management processes and consider the following:
- Ensure all objectives agreed are specific, measurable, achievable and realistic, with clear success criteria.
- Involve staff in assessing their own performance and allow them to collaborate and prepare for review meetings.
- Agree clear protocols for staff monitoring, whilst taking into account the impact on workload.
- Consider options for external staff support and set up a wellbeing group or protocol.
- Design and implement effective processes to maintain and organise classroom environments.
- Provide support and CPD opportunities for teachers in the early stages of their career.
Use technology effectively
Teaching should always be put first and decisions should be based on what you want to achieve, not what technology can do. If implemented properly, new systems can be an effective way of reducing workload – ensure, as a leader, that you champion the use of technology and begin by finding tasks that everyone does so that the new system is something that all staff need to use.
Be sure that your expectations are realistic and if training is required, ensure it is adapted to different people’s development needs. You could also offer training to parents so that they are more aware of the tools being used and how they can be involved.
Analyse data management
Plan the collection of data and consider what the purpose is, what the most efficient process is, and how you can ensure the data collected is reliable and valid. Ensure your data collection processes comply with the GDPR by using our resources here.
To ensure the efficiency of your data collection processes, you could also consider:
- The design of your systems – many systems only require data to be entered once manually, as they can do the rest of the work.
- Developing staff confidence and ability to manage and process data effectively and in delivering interventions.
- Ensuring processes support the accurate input of valid data.
- Looking for systems that suit your needs, e.g. a system that provides immediate alerts to staff of sensitive issues, and an ongoing record of the management of these issues.
- Using one source of information to record progress and attainment to help inform all staff.
- Using evidence-based, structured interventions which have a low impact on staff time.
Champion and learn from those who do
You may find that some of your staff are already making changes to their working habits and improving their work-life balance. You can look for ways to use their knowledge and enthusiasm to support other staff on their journey – ensure that the champions in your school are praised for their commitment to a healthy work-life balance.
Manage change effectively
When planning calendars, ensure you identify key points in the school year that might affect staff workload. Before finalising calendars, ask a range of staff to review and provide feedback, or consider running a workshop. Assessment points and data collection cycles for the year should be included – you should check that data will be collected and processed in time for use.
If changes are to be implemented to the usual scheme of work, ensure there is adequate time at the planning stage: make fewer, more strategic decisions and assess whether existing practices can be stopped. Make sure that all changes have a specific focus linked to improvement priorities with a clear and logical implementation plan.
Training and mentoring can be used to create a shared understanding of any change process. Staff should be encouraged to collaborate with other colleagues in their own and different schools, to share and distribute workload.
Bust Ofsted myths
Excessive workload can also be caused by a misinterpretation of Ofsted’s expectations, so ensure that your staff understand the following:
- Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking feedback.
- Ofsted does not expect to see a written record of oral feedback; however, it will consider how written and oral feedback is used to promote learning.
- If an inspector identifies marking as an area for improvement, they will pay attention to the way recommendations are written and ensure these do not create unnecessary workload.
- Ofsted does not specify how planning should be set out, the length of time it should take or the amount of detail it should contain.
- There is no requirement for you to provide individual or previous lesson plans.
- Performance and pupil-tracking information does not need to be presented in a particular format.
- Ofsted will usually expect to see routine evidence of the monitoring of teaching and learning and its link to teachers’ performance management and the teachers’ standards.
Before making any changes to your current practices, you should identify where workload is excessive – one way to identify issues is by conducting a teacher workload survey. The survey can be filled out anonymously and the findings can be used to analyse the systems you have in place and make amendments where possible.
Ensure that any changes you implement are introduced in a structured and staged manner – there should be adequate time at the planning stage when preparing to make any changes.
Any changes you make should be communicated to the school community, to ensure they understand the reasons for the changes and how they are involved – our letter for communication change template is an ideal way to do this.
You can find out more about reducing workload in your school by using the DfE’s toolkit here.
DfE (2018) ‘Ways to reduce workload in your school(s)’
DfE (2017) ‘Teacher workload: poster and pamphlet’
Butcher, M. (2017) ’10 Steps to Reduce Teacher Workload’, <https://www.fit2teachapp.com/blog/ten-steps/> [Accessed: 8 August 2018]