Leicester NUT Section of the
National Education Union

Joseph Wyglendacz Primary School Teacher National Education Union Executive & Division Secretary, 1st December 2017

Is 'fair workload' becoming an oxymoron?

Without a doubt, the major cause of poor retention, low recruitment and illness is excessive workload practices in schools. This does not have to be the case!

I'm going to avoid the horrendous statistics and focus on the positives and the tools we can use to campaign for a fairer workload. Speaking at a recent Fair Workload Conference in Nottingham, Jeremy Hannay gave an inspirational talk titled From Meaningless to Meaningful. He's the head teacher of Three Bridges Primary School in Ealing, which despite being at the top of Ealing's deprivation tables, has also been at the top of their performance and progress tables. They are also in the top 3% of all English Primary Schools for Pupil Progress from KS1 to KS2. You may have heard of him from an article in the Guardian last year, Tips on reducing teacher stress from the 'happiest school on earth'.

How does he do it? Well, to put it simply, he trusts his staff and gives them professional autonomy; the other argument is that he's a native of Canada. Three Bridges has no set planning format and allows staff to plan however they think is best and in whatever form they deem appropriate. They don't have a marking policy, instead the teachers feed back to children using their professional judgement (be it spoken or written, including peer-on-peer feedback). AND, my personal favourite? they only have a meeting when they need to.

You cannot grow incredible teachers in situations that stifle them, says Jeremy Hannay, talking to the Guardia. My belief is that high systems of accountability and scrutiny may improve the bottom 10% of teachers but it stifles the rest. It takes away their autonomy and creativity and that drives away the best people.

As he sees schools around him with crippling staff turnover rates his has remained at zero, apart from one teacher who is moving out of London after getting married, which will no doubt see a flurry of applications.

Also speaking at the conference in complete support of Hannay's approach was (not the tie-dye wearing hippy you might have imagined) but a Senior HMI from Ofsted, Ian McNeilly. McNeilly stated that the Ofsted clarification has never been so clear. He talked about his frustration when going into schools with SLT/SMT members thrusting unnecessary documents at him, documents that will have taken someone a long time to produce, time they could have spent better doing something else (work-related or not!). McNeilly reiterated that Ofsted DOES NOT:

Require schools to provide individual lesson plans.
Specify how planning should be set out, the length of time it should take or the amount of detail it should contain (he specifically said that highlighting SEN/FSM/Pupil Premium was not needed!)
Award a grade for the quality of teaching or outcomes in the individual lessons visited and does not expect schools to use the Ofsted evaluation schedule to grade teaching or individual lessons either.
Expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils' books or folders. (This would depend on the subject being studied and the age and ability of the pupils.)
Expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback. (These are for the school to decide through its assessment policy.) ? Expect to see photographic evidence of pupils' work.
Require schools to hold onto books and other examples of pupils' work for pupils who left school the previous year.
Require schools to predict their progress scores. (Ofsted inspections - clarification for schools (School inspection handbook, October 2017))

He said that Ofsted take a range of evidence into account when making judgements, including published performance data, the school's in-year performance information and work in pupils' books and folders (including that held in electronic form).

In Leicester, the Unions have been working with the City Council to draft up our own Fair Workload Charter. It's been in consultation for approximately a year now but a final draft has been drawn up for wider consultation with heads' groups, support staff unions, senior city officials etc. It is the belief that this can be used as a campaigning tool (alongside other material) to drive down excessive workload, and also to attract incredible teachers to come to Leicester and stay in the City.

The man who has no imagination has no wings.

Muhammad Ali

Ultimately, we're seeing a situation where some heads and senior leaders are too frightened to break the mould, with leaders who don't engage with their imagination and instead have this herd mentality of 'they're doing it so I can't be seen not to', where managements are too quick to scrutinise rather than support and where genuine concerns of excessive workload are being responded to with 'well that's teaching nowadays'. The current situation is not good enough, not good enough for teachers, and certainly not good enough for the children who have the right to incredible and inspirational teachers who are being driven out of the profession. The fight continues.


Related articles

A Fair Workload Charter for Leicester (8th May 2017)
Reducing Teacher Workload (14th March 2017)
Report from Conference (15th April 2015)
NUT wins breakthrough on teacher workload (5th November 2014)
NUT National Executive Meeting, 11th November (4th December 2010)
Workload Campaign (7th July 2008)
Consultative Ballot on Workload (15th January 2007)
Workload - Taking the Campaign Forward (8th January 2007)
Workload Campaign - NUT National Ballot (4th December 2006)
New Survey on Workload (6th November 2006)
Workload Action at New College (7th March 2005)
Tackling Workload: Beating Back Bureaucracy 2004-2005 (1st November 2004)
NUT Negotiates With LEA On New Flexibilities and Banking Cover (10th September 2001)
Reclaim Your Life!! (6th November 2000)
Beating Back Bureaucracy (9th October 2000)
Workload: Are You A Stakhovanite? (10th January 2000)