This is the second in a planned series of posts on tackling workload issues in schools, so teachers can focus on the most effective activities. Originally posted in February 2015, this post was updated in April 2015, and again in April 2016.
Planning for the Pressure Points
One important way in which school leaders can reduce the workload of teaching staff is to recognise the times of the year when there are particularly high demands. One of these for UK secondary schools is the period in late Spring when we embark on the ‘final push’ and at the same time face the marking & moderation of coursework components. We have adopted a couple of strategies to help staff during this time.
1. Meetings Moratorium For several years we have held a moratorium on meetings for the two weeks after The Easter holiday, suspending the school meeting cycle (subject / pastoral / CPD) to assist colleagues in dealing with this seasonal workload. We also devolve a twilight INSET slot to subject teams in this period so they can share practice, honing and standardising their assessment skills.
2. SLT take on the Homework In 2014, we took the additional step of relieving colleagues of the requirement to set and mark KS3 homework. Instead the SLT set and marked a ‘TakeAway Homework’ menu (Thank you to @TeacherToolkit for that idea*) We used this as a student voice opportunity, so menu items included completing an online survey, writing to the head about an improvement to the school, and writing to me about what qualities a great teacher should have (I need all the help I can get!) We used the responses to inform the School improvement plan.
None of this makes the work go away, of course, but it does allow colleagues to concentrate on key tasks, by relieving some of the pressure on them at this time of year. Teachers have cited it as a helpful strategy in the annual staff wellbeing survey.
April 2015 Update
This year we are repeating the moratorium on meetings, but have modified the take away homework for KS3 students. We have been revisiting our school values this year, so we have included a ‘starter’ on random acts of kindness and a ‘main course’ item which is a competition to design a poster around our school values of wisdom, integrity, justice and compassion. We are also having a push on extended writing, so another ‘main course’ is a writing competition. The inclusion of competition entries also reduces the marking load because the entries are initially screened for shortlisting rather than close-marked. We have of course retained the item most popular with parents last year – the ‘dessert’ on helping out at home!
April 2016 Update
This strategy was welcomed by colleagues last year, so we are repeated it again this year.
We used the same pattern of a meetings moratorium and devolved some INSET time to subject departments so they could use it when most appropriate to their planning.
We also repeated the centralised takeaway homework for KS3 students. You can find it here. We stuck with extended writing opportunities. This was a great success last year and several pupils produced prize-winning entries in National writing competitions. Building on this, we have deliberately written poetry, short story writing and art tasks to meet entry requirements for competitions. We will also be comparing writing this year with that from last year as a way of assessing progress on this priority in our SIP.
We shifted the focus of our ‘values’ tasks to practical action to improve the school environment as our (Catholic school) community explores the message of Pope Francis’ letter Laudato Si’: Care for our Common Home. We’ll also be using this as a student voice opportunity, comparing answers with last year and also asking about our teaching and learning development areas for this year (feedback and DIRT, and Collaborative Learning).
Once again, adopting this strategy has helped alleviate the workload burden of colleagues at a ‘heavy’ time of year, and in a year when there is so much additional change in all areas. Even though Easter was much earlier this year, the two week period after the holiday still seems to have been the most beneficial time to do this.
I hope you found this post useful. I’m keen to hear any comments you have and I’d particularly like to hear other ideas on managing and reducing workload.
*You can find more about takeaway homework on the Teacher Toolkit website