With the Department of Education reporting steep increases in the number of children enrolling in state schools in the next decade, and the Institute of Fiscal Studies estimating an additional 30,000 teachers would be needed to maintain healthy pupil to teacher ratios, the situation has the potential to be catastrophic for standards of education in the UK.
If you look at the current responsibilities an average teacher is expected to tackle, it is easy to see why workload and work-life balance are cited as the main reasons for teachers wanting to leave the profession. Teachers in UK schools currently prepare plans for the term, the week and each lesson, adhering to expected standards for the sake of quantifying progress. However, for the majority of experienced teachers, all this paperwork is a waste of valuable time. Teachers generally agree with the need for a scheme of work but a daily or weekly lesson plan is superfluous when a detailed scheme of work for the term has been produced. As well as this, they document the progress of the plans after the lesson has occurred, on top of student progression and take notes of any necessary interactions with students. This is before they even get to setting and marking homework.
With an average class size of 30 students, and 5 different classes a week, teachers would need to provide lesson plans, progress reports, setting and marking homework for 150 students each week to half term. One survey of teachers suggested over three-quarters of teachers were working up to 65 hours a week, the majority of this just in preparational activities.
Already it’s clear to see how bureaucracy within schools has overburdened and overshadowed teaching as a profession, without even taking into account factors such as funding cuts, exam changes and Ofsted monitoring which further amplify the negative and hostile environment that teachers have to struggle through to succeed in their profession.
How can more people be encouraged to consider the profession and progress within it? With small adjustments to the current perspective on the fundamentally necessary elements of educating, teachers workloads can be made more manageable so that they are able to focus on teaching, allowing more within the profession to feel they are able to make the difference they want to.
Students and teachers alike can have different styles of approach that impact how they process and receive information. Some teachers may find it necessary to record a large amount of information whilst others may not need such stringent detail. Similarly, some students expect regular feedback, whilst others do not benefit from this and are happy to receive feedback infrequently. In addition to this, constantly monitoring students has been shown to have little effect on actually improving grades whilst at the same time, taking away more beneficial teaching time.
So, in addition to this it may be just as important to manage the expectations of students and superiors in reference to realistic timescales for feedback, as it is to manage workload. This would, essentially, give teachers more control and flexibility in how they manage their own workload, and would have the added benefit of giving teachers a sense of value and respect.
If teachers were allocated ‘office time’, students who wished to discuss their work on a more regular basis would be able to do so. Students, who do not want or benefit from the constant reporting and feedback would have the option of attending remedial classes that allows the teacher to focus more on points that students are struggling with and give them dedicated time to go over any specific block in their knowledge in a practical way. This would allow teachers the means to increase students’ understanding whilst being managed within school time.
A further benefit to changing feedback in this way, is that it’s possible for a more thorough progress report to be given to students termly or even twice yearly allowing the student and the school to see trends over time, and where improvement is needed. This may be more beneficial as it is a more digestible format than a multitude of reports which could essentially miss the wood for all the trees.
The weakness with a strategy like this, is that it would depend on the capability of the teacher. If the teacher is failing to meet standards, or is managing their time badly, it might take longer to identify this in comparison to constant reporting. However, the likelihood is that it would be a marginal difference, which is a small price to pay if the alternative is critical teacher shortages and a falling standard of education within the UK.
Looking at how homework is managed is another way of reducing teacher’s workloads and improving their work-life balance. One way to do this would be to utilise technology and provide homework programs that are self marking, allowing this time consuming task to be removed from the responsibilities of the teacher. This would be best suited for subjects such as maths and science that have a high rate of empirical, objective information (questions with one or more specific answers). However, with subjects like English for example, where a wide range of correct answers are possible, schools should consider the use of external markers, which again, would then free up teachers to focus on educating.
By making these small but significant changes, it’s possible to drastically improve the workload and work-life balance teachers are currently experiencing with little to no impact on resources or available funding. However it is done, it’s vitally important to start addressing this issue, as without some alteration, the situation is due to escalate uncontrollably in the foreseeable future which would be disastrous for young people today and future generations.
by Leon Hady
He is the former Headteacher of an ‘Outstanding’ school in the UK. He now focuses on online learning having created an online video personalisation portal; helping over 100,000 students pass exams at www.tuitionkit.com and also helping teachers become qualified alongside a nationwide recruitment agency to combat the teacher shortage in the UK www.academics.tuitionkit.com