Since I started in education in 1971, workload has been an issue; I am not sure if it will ever finally be resolved, but attention will need to be paid to it, or teachers will ultimately vote with their feet and leave in numbers that cannot be replaced.
Workload patterns have shifted in that time, but workload, in terms of hours worked, in reality, probably is the same. It is the pattern that has shifted.
When I started training, and for several years after, my classes were regularly in excess of 36 children, sometimes getting to 39/40. There was no such thing as a classroom assistant, no photocopier, only the Banda machine, which offered two or three colour printing, only if the carbons were available. We class taught those things that needed to be taught, and also ran our classrooms on Integrated Day lines. This meant up to five activities happening, across a range of subjects, at any one stage, some that required direct intervention, others for more independent activity. In reality, this did not cause problems overall, as it became a case of nudging groups along at an appropriate pace. Some activities were designed for the long term, several days or a couple of weeks of effort leading to a final product. That embedded drafting and redrafting into the activity too. Marking was focused to in-lesson needs. There was a culture of marking with the children for maximum impact.
Technology consisted of a shared tape recorder. The excitement when the overhead projectors arrived in school was palpable. You could talk facing the class and record at the same time.
Clubs ran during lunchtime and after school. Training, at the local teacher’s centre was after school, or at weekends.
As now, any large scale marking was done at home, as with planning. Making workcards, rather than worksheets, to ensure a prolonged life, took many hours with felt pens in hand.
It was the way it was and you got used to thinking in a more lateral way, in order to solve issues as they arose. I’d probably have to admit that the quality of thinking was greater than the detail in planning.
We looked at the pattern of the year and the periods where the demands on teachers were greatest and sought solutions that enabled the school to run efficiently, while also ensuring teachers achieved all that was required, as efficiently as possible.
Planning is often an ongoing bugbear. We developed an annual plan and medium term system that described the class journeys. Topics had internal specifications, which were developed with local inspectors and advisors, who also ran the school CPD days, to embed good practice. There was a certain coherence to this, in that the teachers knew what areas that needed to be covered, could juggle them into a form that suited their thinking, so they were able to impart what was needed in a form that they found most creative. They had some ownership. Specs were available in June/July when classes were allocated, so that initial thoughts could be gathered about how the term would start in September.
A couple of final staff meetings in July were largely put to planning for the coming year. In September, I would receive the annual plan and the overview of the autumn term.
The first two weeks were always a “settling topic”, of the teacher’s choice, to get to know the class as well as possible. Then, on the second Friday of term, we had a closure, part of which was overview school planning issues, then time allocated to develop the first main topic in detail.
Teacher short term plans were kept in personal logbooks, in a style that suite their teaching. Unless there were issues with the quality of outcome, as evident in books and display, or other evidence, I was happy with knowing the direction of travel.
Teachers had some in-week planning time, before PPA became official, as I took either the Infants or the Juniors for singing, silly songs to my guitar playing, for a good half hour. We used sports coaches to support games, particularly, so additional time was also available. Music, from the LA music service provided another hour, each week.
Development time was supported by taking ITT students regularly. When they had proved themselves and could take the class, they enabled the teacher to be released. Paired placements allowed pairs of teachers to be released for development activities. High quality TAs could also be asked to provide a small amount of temporary cover. In both cases, balance is essential.
We altered the timings of report writing. Instead of the main report being needed at the end of the year, when it would have limited learning impact, they were prepared for Parents’ evenings just after the February half term. Some January and February staff meeting time was given over to that. Half term was available for slower writers! Staff meeting times were adjusted to suit both the parents and the teachers, with only one late evening.
Summer reports were more personal, reflections on the year and also had a child page reporting on highlights and reflecting on their next steps.
We developed an after school club system that was based as much on expertise from our local sixth form college, as available adults, and in so doing offered a very broad range of opportunities at low cost.
One thing that I did do as head was to filter innovation, to ensure that teachers were not over-burdened from above, but also that they took full account of the workload implications of personal interests and decisions. We did innovate, with a clear plan to do so, but sometimes too many initiatives, in too short a time, causes overload, which can stultify efforts.
Did this approach wipe out workload issues? No, and for one very good reason. You can’t take away the personal side of need. How long it takes one teacher to do particular aspects of the role will vary from person to person and may well depend on expertise, or experience.
Time management is a significant skill for a teacher. If demand is under some element of personal control, it gets done; otherwise it becomes a millstone. Line managers need to be aware of the impact of their demands, to ensure they don’t have staff quickly burning out.
Management of workload in a school setting is a whole school issue. It should be discussed, with unnecessary activity and any duplication removed rapidly. Systems need to be clear and easy to use, otherwise they become time-consuming.