Workload Challenge – the results!

Workload Challenge Feb 15Workload Challenge Feb 15

Today came the long awaited results of the government’s Workload Challenge. Issued back in October, it attracted thousands of responses from serving teachers and head teachers mostly giving the same message. What’s causing the mind-numbing workload overload? Why, policies (from Ofsted as well as the DfE) heralded from on high, trickling down through to School Leaders, fizzing further along and down the line to teachers, of course. A heady cocktail of headline grabbing, ambitious, vote winning (?) targets imposed on schools to show the general public that politicians are the only people to be trusted with ensuring the educational advancement of our children. Implicit in this is the message that schools (and teachers), if left alone, would pay no heed to the progress of their pupils and would spend all day playing rounders and showing episodes of Friends dubbed into German.

And so to Nicky Morgan’s response. How to counter and address this very obvious complaint from hoards of exhausted teachers across the country? The approach is four-fold:

  1. Most importantly a pledge never again to instigate government or Ofsted reform part way through a school year or course duration, unless “absolutely necessary”.
  2. More guidance from Ofsted to make it clear exactly what they’re looking for in order to dispel any myths or folklore being put about within schools.
  3. More training for School Leaders, to promote and encourage good practice when dealing with staff and workload.
  4. A twice yearly survey of teachers’ workload to keep better tabs on the amount and its effect.

On the surface these points seem useful, but it is all laced with a large helping of doubt and distrust. The phrase “absolutely necessary” will have caused more than the odd groan among many in the profession. Who will decide the “absolute-ness” of the necessity? What will be the criteria, and will it be so subjective that the pledge won’t be worth the keyboard it was written on? And then the guidance from Ofsted: all well and good, but we all know that it is the judgement of the inspection team that you are given that it all rests on, and how can you trust that they all sing from the same guidance sheet? Training for School Leaders is a good idea, if the School Leaders actually take the training – if they are not so swamped by their own workload and pressures that they can’t extricate themselves from their desks. And another survey in two year’s time could end up feeling like a repeat performance, a Groundhog Day, purely to provide teachers with a regular means of venting their frustrations.

What would give these points a more positive feel and greater gravitas? Perhaps if the pledge was a straightforward pledge with no caveat? If the Ofsted guidance and SLT training were followed by checks to ensure that they were being actively implemented in schools? If the next survey in two years time was clearly being used as a deadline, a benchmark for when workload is expected to be significantly improved?

Now that really would feel like teachers were being listened to and valued.

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War on illiteracy and innumeracy

This weekend we have heard from Ed Sec Nicky Morgan that,
“We will expect every pupil by the age of 11 to know their times tables off by heart, to perform long division and complex multiplication and to be able to read a novNicky Morganel. They should be able to write a short story with accurate punctuation, spelling and grammar…”
She wants us to be in the top 5 countries in the world instead of 23rd, and she’s going all guns blazing. Once that election has been won, this is what’s in store.
There’s penalties too: if a school fails to achieve these heady heights with all its pupils two years in a row it will be pulled up for its failings by being paired with outstanding schools, and having outstanding staff parachuted in for peer training and mentoring.
So, an ambitious idea with measurable success criteria. Big scary carrot. And a “bit of a nasty” for those that don’t get there. Big spiky stick.
But of course, behind all these new ambitions and dramatic statements on how to improve the lot of the ordinary state school pupil once they’ve gone out into the big wide world, there will be buckets, nay shed loads, of change to swallow, at a time when teachers in all sectors have had incredible amounts of the stuff to cope within the last 5 years. Many are at their wits’ end and most are just craving the assurance that, just for a while, they’ll be left alone for a term or two to bed-in the changes that have already been decreed.
These are the people who will deliver the ambitions of the politicians. The vast majority are hard-working, dedicated individuals who don’t need a carrot or a stick, big, scary, spiky or any shape. Just give them the time and space to be creative and inspiring and they will deliver the maximum it is possible to with their pupils.