Tag Archives: workload

National Education Workforce Survey

5 Apr

Today the Education Workforce Council published the National Education Workforce Survey.  For a number of years there has been calls for just this sort of thing to be undertaken in Wales.  Across the boarder the Westminster Government have produced annual workload surveys and they have been illuminating in shinning a light on the workload pressures of the teaching profession.  While in Wales we have heard numerous examples of anecdotal evidence it has been frustrating to be unable to point to a comprehensive piece of work to back up the picture we are all very aware of.  We now do have that.

This piece of work, in full credit to Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Government and the EWC, goes far beyond what was originally called for.  Instead of a teachers workload survey we have an in-depth report looking at a whole range of areas covering different tiers of the sector.  With a total of over 10,000 responses this has been a wide-ranging survey that provides a depth of data to be explored.

There will be initial reactions in the media no doubt.  That makes sense and it is right.  That said, in addition to those first thoughts, over the next couple of weeks I hope to blog a few times to work through what evidence we’ve been presented with.  if there are any specific aspects you think should be explored and reviewed please do let me know.


The Stats Behind The Profession – Part 1

14 Oct

Recently the Education Workforce Council (EWC) published their annual statistics digest.  Much of it is expected and bland but there are a few headline figures worth picking out for discussion and I am going to do that over a few different blogs.

The first stat is just the basic numbers of teachers registered with the EWC.

March 2012 – 38,290

March 2013 – 37,862

March 2014 – 37,673

March 2015 – 37,355

March 2016 – 36,951

Slowly over the past five years we have seen a decline of -1,339 in registered teachers.  I should say that Stats Wales records the number of qualified teachers by local authority as 27,738.  I’m a little unsure as to why there is a discrepancy although I’m guessing that the Stats Wales figures do not include things such as registered teachers working in different areas outside the classroom (local authorities; consortia; Welsh Government etc.) nor perhaps more specifically supply teachers.

This decline may not seem such a big deal.  We are not talking about a huge percentage of the teaching profession and historically Wales has over subscribed its teaching places.  However, we are creeping towards a potential issue in that not once since 2010 has the target number for teacher training places been met.  Worryingly the shortfall has steadily grown with a third of teacher training places remaining unfilled in 2015/16.  We are facing the very real possibility that we could go from training too many teachers to failing to train enough.  That is already a factor in some specific areas such as maths, sciences and modern foreign languages but it could develop into a wider concern.

So why is this happening?  I think it is perhaps a three fold issue.  Firstly changes made to the entry requirements have seen those applying needing a B grade in English and mathematics rather than the previously required C grade.  I can, in some senses, see the logic of raising the bar on that expectation but at the same time I remain unconvinced it was the wisest move.  It has established a qualification expectation on an individual based on an exam they will have done at least 5/6 years prior to becoming a teacher.  In the interim they will have secured higher level qualifications.  What is more, that someone has a B grade above a C grade does not necessarily make them a better teacher.  Teaching is as much an art as it is a science and, as I stated at the time, I still have reservations that potentially very good teachers have been vetoed from taking the role up because of this barrier.

Secondly, is the issue of workload and the remuneration of teachers.  Teachers workload has been a major concern for as long as you could care to remember.  Teachers have always gone above and beyond but what was once done in addition to their expected contracts due to a love of the role, has now become an unwritten obligation.  More worryingly it is a case of those working hours being a necessity in order to cover the bureaucracy that goes hand in hand with the role.  Unless a teacher is still working late into each evening and often over the weekend they simply can not sustain the levels of workload required to reach ever unrealistic targets, both for them personally and their pupils.  At the same time we have seen the pay and pensions of teachers depressed and devalued while access to those pensions now comes with an additional several years of employment or else financial penalty.  Teachers are having to work more for less and that does nothing to entice people into the profession.  Put together with the first concern and what we are expecting is a better standard of teacher (on paper if not in reality) to do more work and get paid less for it.  It is little wonder recruitment is beginning to become an issue.

Perhaps the final issue with teacher numbers is that the role of a teacher has been denigrated in the eyes of the public.  While surveys consistently show trust in the teaching profession remains high, the respect that teaching as a profession gets from the media and politicians has, as a rule of thumb, decreased.  I should caveat that by saying I know there are great journalists and many politicians who speak highly of teachers and promote their role in our society.  However, overall there is no underestimating the way teachers have been under attack in recent years as the narrative for governmental and policy failure, at both ends of the M4, has been focused on blaming classroom practitioners.  The more the reputation of teachers is damaged the less attractive the position will seem to potential applicants.


And It’s Goodbye From Him…

18 Jan

The big news in Welsh education over the weekend, and in fact in Welsh politics in general, is the announcement by Huw Lewis AM that he will be standing down as an Assembly Member at the next Welsh election in May.

The Wider Picture

There is never any guarantee of continuity after an election.  We could have an individual at the helm from a different political party should Labour not get back in, albeit that scenario seems unlikely on current polling data.  We could also have a new political party running education through a coalition.  A far more likely prospect.  Perhaps the more rumored and expected outcome, had Huw Lewis AM not been retained in post, would have been a return Labour minority government with the potential of a new Minister due to cabinet reshuffles.  Still, what we do have now is a cast iron guarantee that we will be heading into the second half of 2016 with a new man or woman in charge of the nations education services.

I’m a firm believer that education needs a long-term approach with continuity at the heart of the agenda.  Education policy takes many years to bed in and have a noticeable impact.  It is a generational change.  I’ve said time and time again that those nations whose education system are internationally lauded have generally undertaken a 10, 15, 20+ year journey.  To that end having another new Minister will be somewhat unsettling, although there is no saying if the policy direction will change with that appointment of course.

A further concern, teased out in the ITV interview I did over the weekend, was the risk to momentum that this announcement could create.  It has to be said that there seems a greater sense of optimism in Welsh education on a policy basis than at any other time since I took up my post.  That is not to say that everything in the garden is rosy.  Far from in on some levels.  However, there is certainly a sense of relative united support for some big policy projects such as the ‘New Deal’ for teachers and the curriculum reforms.  These have been developed, and are being developed, with a closer sense of cooperation between the Welsh Government, local authorities and schools than many other changes we have seen in the past.  Losing the Minister that initiated them will threaten that momentum. That said I think so long as there remains a commitment to the causes that shouldn’t derail progress.  The fact the Welsh Government gave Professor Donaldson the independence he needed to go about his work, and crucially have retained his input for the implementation stage of the curriculum, is a real boost in keeping this process going.  It is also positive that much of the legwork on curriculum reform and the new deal design is being done by the profession itself through pioneer schools. That should hopefully mitigate any possible turbulence a change in Minister could create.

Perhaps the big fear is the foot being taken off the gas.  There was always the risk of that happening in going into an election anyway.  I don’t have any doubts that Huw Lewis AM will remain committed until he signs off as Minister, but with an outgoing head of an organisation in place it does always ask questions of those working underneath.  That’s something we need to keep an eye on from top to bottom within the sector.

Reflections on the Minister

It is no doubt still early to be writing the obituaries of a Minister in post but I thought it was worth having a brief look back at some things given his announcement.

I think it is fair to say that Huw Lewis took over at a time when relations between the Welsh Government and the teaching profession were extremely strained.  His appointment was therefor very welcome simply because it presented the opportunity for a fresh start.  One I think both the Welsh Government and teachers very much needed to grasp.

In what seems like a different lifetime now I was formally a Plaid Cymru employee.  Huw Lewis, to me as someone who didn’t know him personally, appeared to represent the tribal politics of Labour.  (For the record I have no doubt that every party has its tribal stance.  I imagine back in my more blinkered days I could have been described in similar terms from another side of the argument.  I sincerely hope that I have proven to be far more mature in my relationships across the political divide in since leaving my job at the Assembly.  Having worked with politicians from every party I am sure it is an objective I have succeeded in).   With that in mind I did have some trepidation about the way the Minister would work.

I am pleased to say my preconceptions have been thoroughly confounded.  As an individual politician Huw Lewis may, or may not, be tribal in his approach.  I have never dealt with him outside education so could not say.  I can only confirm that he has proven to be a very constructive Minister to work with since his appointment.  There have been some major steps forward under Huw Lewis that have helped bring back the ability to have positive dialogue with the Welsh Government.  Even where there have been disagreements on policy, and there have been many still, they have been aired in a more conciliatory fashion, by all parties.  Compromises have been reached and a focus on understanding the rational and thinking of others is more central to this new approach.  It is this style and attitude that has enabled the Minister to secure such buy in from teachers to major changes in policy and one he should receive a lot of credit for.

Legacy is hard to evaluate for Education Minister’s as I have stated.  It takes time to see how things work and there is no security that Huw Lewis’s successor will not come in and simply rip up his work.  However, I think he can look back and recognize that he brought a more positive approach to cooperation between schools and government; he presided over the development of a new Welsh curriculum (albeit much of this work remains to be undertaken) and he has been perhaps the Minister most explicit about the need to address the gap in access for teacher’s continued professional development.

To be critical, I think it is a real shame there have been no strides to tackle the continued unpopular and divisive national testing, particularly for the very youngest pupils and in light of the fact the OECD and Donaldson curriculum review have noted they are not fit for the way we wish to deliver education in Wales.  It is also a shame that we continue to have major failings with our supply sector, including a controversial preferred bidder contract set up with one supply agency in particular.  Finally, our workload scandal continues, although it has to be stated that the Minister has taken steps to put this on the agenda for pioneer schools so his work there may yet yield some tangible changes in the future.

There is still time for the Minister to get to grips with these issues before he leaves of course and in fairness he has at least recognized the problems with supply which have for too long been ignored.

It is a shame the Minister is standing down when there is still so much work to do on some of the agendas that he has been so pivotal to developing.  That said, having worked for politicians in the past I have seen first hand the sort of pressures it puts on an individual.  You cannot therefore begrudge someone who has been an Assembly Member for almost 17 years wanting to have a change.

The Future

What Huw Lewis will leave is a lot of potential.  We have many strands of work open with a firm direction set.  Any new Minister will of course want to stamp their approach on their department and portfolio.  You can expect nothing less.  What I sincerely hope does happen is that whomever comes in continues to appreciate the need to secure support for, and support from, the teaching profession.  Any policy will fail if those delivering it are not convinced of its merits.  Perhaps Huw Lewis’s greatest achievement as Minister is that for some of the biggest proposals he allowed teachers to feel part of the development process.  That’s a lesson any Education Minister will be wise to learn.


‘Everyone should be concerned with teaching days lost due to stress’ – Western Mail Article

9 Jun

The pressure of excessive workloads is a common complaint amongst teachers.  There are a variety of contributing factors to this consistent problem and it is having a devastating impact on the profession.  Increasingly unmanageable class sizes; punitive and meaningless accountability measures; budget cuts leading to redundancies; teachers covering too many subjects or responsibilities due to understaffing; initiative overload, the list goes on and on and sadly there are only more and more things being added to the daily grind.

The impact of these unsustainable workload pressures is that last year 47,283 teaching days were lost due to stress induced mental health illness amongst the teaching profession.  Let that number sink in for a minute or two.  Over 47,000 days of teaching were lost in 2014 due to teachers being worked to the point of mental illness.  That is a horrendous statistic that everyone concerned with education standards and public services in Wales should be deeply worried about.

If you believe this to be a blip then I am ashamed to say that you would be mistaken.  Freedom of Information research conducted by NUT Cymru has shown that year on year the number of absences due to workload induced stress related mental illness is consistently around the 50,000 day mark.  On average over the past three years 49,524 teaching days have been lost.  At a time of rising class sizes and staff redundancies this is the equivalent of seeing an additional 253 full time teachers being employed in Wales.

Those teachers who have been signed off with stress related mental illnesses do not wish to be away from work.  For many it is incredibly difficult to return to the role due to a loss of confidence; fear of a reprisal of the pressures that caused them to become ill in the first instance; a concern for the educational wellbeing of their pupils and the worry of slipping behind the curve of new initiatives and practices.  Indeed, for a significant minority of individuals being forced to take stress related sick leave is the first stage to the end of their careers as they never return to teaching.  This is a problem not only in terms of losing a valuable human asset in regards to the experience and quality of those practitioners, but also in the sense that there is a time and finance cost of training new entrants to the profession to cover this turnover.

Of course there are further reasons to push this issue high on the agenda in Wales.  Tackling this problem will not only help to protect the wellbeing of our school staff, it also offers huge opportunities elsewhere on standards and school finance.

Reducing the instances of stress related leave will enhance the continuity of teaching in our classrooms and ultimately improve standards.  Teachers who spent time fostering relationships with their pupils over time will have a better chance of seeing the fruits of that hard work than if a pupil’s education is disrupted by having to re-establish trust in a new supply teacher, or several if the issue persists over a prolonged period of time or intermittently.

Basing the cost of supply on an average of £170 per day we can see that, as a conservative estimate, stress related illnesses are hitting school budgets by around £8.4m each year.  While it will be impossible to completely eradicate that expenditure, putting measures in place to avoid workload pressures manifesting themselves in stress related sickness in the first place, and offering better support for those who do suffer when it does happen, could reduce that bill significantly.  This would put more money back into the system, alleviating some of the unprecedented financial challenges schools across Wales are currently facing.

So what needs to happen?  In the first instance we need to fully appreciate exactly what the situation is on the ground.  We know the impact of workload pressures and have countless examples of anecdotal evidence.  What we need now is the cold hard facts.

NUT Cymru have written to the Education Minister to ask that the Welsh Government conduct a workload survey to get a clearer picture of the reality of teaching for those working in the sector in Wales.  It has to be said that Huw Lewis AM has often spoken up for the profession since he was appointed to the role.  He is clearly a keen supporter of teaching as a profession and his drive to rekindle some of the lost respect for teaching has been very welcome for a profession that has often felt under siege in recent years.  I don’t think anyone doubts the Minister’s commitment to reducing the bureaucratic burden on teachers; to allowing them to get on with the role of teaching or in promoting the profession within the education sector and beyond.  The Minister has indicated that he is open to the idea of a workload survey being discussed with officials.  Hopefully this does lead to some tangible progress.  With that information we can set about creating a fairer and more manageable system that works with teachers and for pupils.  Ultimately we cannot continue with a system that results in a new teacher being pushed to exhaustion and forced to take time off through mental ill health on average every 5 hours.

This origionally appeared in the Western Mail on Saturday June 6th.  You can see it here.

Inspection Myth Busting

27 Oct

A little while back Ofsted published a document tackling the misconceptions around school inspections. While teacher’s are familiar with school inspectors telling them what they should do this handy addition to inspection guidance outlines what the body does not expect schools to do or provide during, or before, inspection. It states, for example, that Ofsted DOES NOT:

  • require teachers or schools to provide individual lesson plans for inspectors, or previous lesson plans;
  • expect schools to use the evaluation schedules to grade teaching, or individual lessons;
  • require schools to undertake a specified amount of lesson observation;
  • expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders;
  • expect to see unnecessary or extensive written dialogue between teachers and pupils in exercise books and folders;
  • expect performance and pupil-tracking data to be presented in a particular format.

The Ofsted document gives school leaders and teachers a much better understanding of what is required during an inspection. It is a handy myth buster that will hopefully help address some workload concerns and make the inspection process a more transparent and honest one.  This has been an important step and one that should be replicated in Wales. If Estyn were to undertake a similar publication it could help to reduce the pressures on teachers and school leaders and improve the relationship between those delivering education services and those inspecting them.  There remain far too many misunderstandings about what teachers and schools are required to undertake during the high pressured inspection period.

Workload pressures on teachers, which are already at unsustainable levels, are increased dramatically during an inspection period.  Very often we see school leaders creating unrealistic and unnecessary additional expectations for teachers to meet inspection criteria that simply do not exist.  We also see local authorities and regional consortia driving head teachers to undertake inspection orientated work that Estyn does not require.  Having a clear guidance document stating what teachers and schools do not need to do for inspection would give those going through the process the protection and assurances they need.

Hopefully Estyn will see this as an opportunity to provide clarity for the sector as a whole for future inspections.

Tackling the Workload Problem

23 Oct

You won’t find me saying this often but….. well done to the Westminster Department for Education.  Through a speech made by the Deputy Prime Minister they have taken an important first step in tackling the issue of workload for teachers.  I say well done, let’s not make the mistake of believing that this is a decision that has not been forced upon them.  The support that both the Lib Dems and Conservatives have been hemorrhaging amongst the motivated electorate of the teaching workforce has been the key statistic that has forced them to sack a Secretary of State for Education, and now to openly acknowledge some of the big issues that the NUT and others have been consistently highlighting.  Still, no matter what prompted this initiative it is to be welcomed.

It is really positive to hear Nick Clegg recognising teachers must be liberated from “burdensome workloads” and aiming to address the “misguided impression” that teaching is a career built on short days and long holidays.  Actions of course speak louder than words, but those words are nonetheless still important.

You get the clear sense that the door that the profession has been banging on for some time on the issue of workload is starting to creep open at Whitehall.  Yes this is about teacher’s votes, but it can also be about dramatically improving standards.  Reducing workload pressures on teachers, which we know are unsustainable, will not only benefit those individuals but also their pupils.  We will not only have more motivated teachers able to do the jobs they have been trained to do, but we will see more empowered and focused students as a results.

This is an issue that is also on the Welsh agenda.  Opposition parties have begun making their pitches on tackling the bureaucracy of teaching and I expect it to be one of the central commitments across the education manifesto’s in the run up to the 2016 Welsh election.

It is exciting that the DfE in England are seeking teachers views on how we can create a more streamline and effective system.  Judgement on if this is more than a pre-election olive branch will be seen in the delivery of any tangible action of course.  What teachers in Wales would certainly like to see is the Welsh Government make a similar offer.  A commission or consultation into the challenges here that will allow teachers to identify where there are existing workload problems.  What policies are causing unnecessary workload problems. Directly or indirectly.  Intended or unintended.


A hard days work

30 Sep

I’ve written a few times on the blog about workload.  I know I sound like a bit of a broken record but the reality is that this is a problem that Government’s at both ends of the M4 have failed drastically to acknowledge let alone begin to address. Worryingly the financial, educational and health impact of this issue cannot be overstated.

A recent survey conducted by the NUT, which received over 16,000 responses, highlighted just how much of a concern this is.

  • 90% of teachers said they had considered giving up teaching during the last two years because of workload.
  • 87% said they know one or more colleagues who had given up during the last two years because of workload.
  • 96.5% said their workload had negative consequences for their family or personal life.

Quite clearly we are at a crossroads with action to tackle this issue absolutly crucial.  Ever increasing teacher workloads are leaving many in the role physically and mentally exhausted while others have left, or are considering leaving, the profession altogether.

We all want the best education system possible. However, the sort of demands that are currently, and increasingly, being placed on the shoulders of teachers is acting as a barrier to achieving that. What is most frustrating is that much of the demands on teacher’s time are not actually directly to do with art of teaching but rather the bureaucracy that goes hand in hand with the job.

Teachers are desperate to help nurture students to fulfil their potentials. For teachers, parents and pupils it is time we created the right environment in our school system to allow that to happen.

Glasgow: A Sporting Legacy for Wales?

8 Aug

One of the big issues in our schools is how education, and educators, can play a role in tackling the obesity crisis. We know that getting children involved with sport at a young age is crucial to their long-term physical development.  If children have a healthy relationship with sporting endeavours throughout their school lives they are far more likely to remain physically active after they leave.  This investment in sport not only helps in terms of reducing obesity related illnesses but it develops the often hard to measure personal skills that most teachers are very focused on, and that are crucial for life after leaving school.  These include leadership qualities, team-work, problem solving and communication skills amongst other benefits.  None of this should start or end at the school gate of course, but the is undoubtably a real opportunity to maximize the engagement levels during the school day.

Most people in Wales have been pretty engrossed in the Commonwealth Games over the past few weeks.  Any major championship usually, in the short-term at least, acts as a catalyst to increased participation in sports.  The fact that we were actually looking at distinctly Welsh branded athletes will have helped even more in capturing the imagination.  What is more, that some of the Welsh medals came in sports you would not usually see given prime-time exposure is a real bonus.  Often where teachers have often found difficulty in engaging students it has been due to “traditional” sports not appeal to them.  These games, through the likes of Frankie Jones in Rhythmic Gymnastics, Natalie Powell in Judo and Craig Pilling in Wrestling, have exposed a generation of individuals to the idea of taking up sports they may never previously have considered.  The very fact that so many Welsh athletes, winners or not, have reached a high competitive level across the range of events is inspirational alone.

However, If we expect Glasgow to deliver a lasting legacy perhaps we need to think again.  While Geraint Thomas, Jazz Carlin, Georgia Davies et all continue to be, or will go on to be, household names, at a grassroots level we do have to face up to the future.  Austerity measures are cutting our local services.  Public leisure centres are being downgraded, privatised or shut completely.  The upkeep of playing fields are being neglected while the cost to hire for them is being increased.  Access to the sort of facilities we need to ensure remain commonplace if we are to entice the next generation of medalists to take up sports is becoming increasingly constrictive.

We can, and should, of course be more creative.  Less money doesn’t always mean there are no options.  I have previously blogged on how we can utilise our school buildings in different ways to try to create community spaces where they do not currently exist.  Still, there can be no underestimating what the cuts to provisions at a local level will mean to participation figures.

No one is suggesting that any services are completely off-limits.  Let’s be realistic, it is hard to say we do not want slashing cuts to our education and/or health services while expecting all the local authorities libraries, sport centres or parks to remain untouched.  That being said there is an invest to save argument.  What impact will reducing the ability of engaging children in sport, and the lifelong passion for health and nutrition that goes with it, have on our education and health services in the longer term?

At a school level sporting facilities have always been squeezed but that is only going to be more and more difficult.  The intensive drive towards a focus of literacy and numeracy does have an impact on other areas of education.  That isn’t to underestimate the absolute need to ensure that literacy and numeracy is a priority in our schools. They are and should be.  However, we have reached a point in Wales where they are slowly becoming the only thing that matter.  Resources for schools in general are sparse and very often, rightly or indeed wrongly, it is the creative arts that suffer.  Those subjects that are not part of the core curriculum are marginalised.  Drama, music and sport are the casualties of the PISA approach to education.

We can also look at the issue of workload for teachers.  The ever-increasing pressures placed on practitioners make it more and more difficult for them to give up what free time they already have.  Given a large proportion of those running after school sports clubs are teachers this does cause a lot of problems in ensuring such community activities can continue to be offered.

Sport Wales have two clear and ambitious objectives.

1. To create a Nation of Champions

2. To ensure that every child is hooked on sport for life.

It is fair to say that in respect of the first objective the organisation is well on its way to establishing Wales as relative powerhouse.  Per head of population Wales was the best performing nation in the UK competing at the Commonwealth games and its sporting performance in general terms far outweighs the expectations a nation of just 3 million individuals could expect.  However, Sport Wales cannot expect to achieve the second ambition unless we all recognise the barriers that are being placed in front of development at a grassroots level.

Is it time to put an end to school reports?

23 Jun

“Working hard and working smart sometimes can be two different things.” – Byron Dorgan

It is reports season for teachers across Wales once again. As well as their usual working week, which figures show is around 56-60 hours long on average depending if you work in a primary or secondary school, teachers have the task of writing detail summaries of performances for all the pupils that they teach, across all subjects. You can quite comfortably assume that for a primary school teacher with a class of around 30 this will equate to a labour cost of anything between 50-80 additional hours. When you consider that those teachers still have to complete their marking and planning is this really the best use of our school teachers time? For those unlucky enough to also be going through lesson observations or Estyn inspections at this time it is little wonder that there is such a high percentage of teachers suffering from stress related mental health issues in Wales.

This is just not a workload issue for teachers, albeit it is a significant one for them. A headteacher will have to read through each of the reports and add their own comments. That is hundreds upon hundreds of reports to wade through. Is that the most important task for a headteacher to be undertaking when we are consistently calling for a greater capacity for leadership and innovation within our schools?

The almost depressing reality is that the majority of parents will simply not read these reports. They may scan over the core subjects or teacher/headteacher summaries but the main detail will be ignored. Those parents that do read the entire report word for word are arguably parents that are already very well engaged with their children’s school work and have good existing relationships with teachers and schools. These reports are increasingly things that need to be seen to be written but not necessarily written to be seen.

In this day and age, of modern technology and interactive approaches, are these reports an archaic throwback to a different era? At a time of unsustainable workloads are they part of a system that has lost its relevance?

I am not suggesting that we scrap the important link with parents. Far from it. Firstly there would continue to be the parents evenings for teachers to provide face to face feedback on the progress of their pupils. Teacher will, as a matter of course, also always speak to parents on an informal basis to encourage them to support their children’s learning and to raise any potential concerns as well as offering praise for achievements. I am however suggesting that we do things differently to benefit everyone.

We are developing new systems all the time. The INCERTS model is attempting to reduce the bureaucracy of report writing but why do we not go further? Why not use modern technology to create a more instant and individual approach to parental feedback? A system that would allow parents to review the progress of their children online as an ongoing practice throughout the year rather than through one-off end of year documents. Combined with a marking system this could reduce duplication of workload, help identify potential concerns with parents at an earlier and easier stage and create better relationships between schools and families. It would establish a more consistent picture across the school year and, while teachers may be updating it on a more regular basis, it would put an end to that huge workload drain at the end of the year when teachers are mentally exhausted and when there are a range of other priorities being thrown at them. Such a system could also empower parents and guardians to access interactive approaches for how to support attainment in subjects and aspects of learning that individual pupils may be struggling with.

We are forever asking teachers to work harder.  For once lets look at how we can help them work smarter.

Putting the hours in

4 Mar

The Wales TUC held its annual work your own hours day last week. They noted that on average workers in Wales were putting in around 6.2 hours a week of unpaid time.

I know from personal experience that this is the case for teachers. In one of the early entries for this blog I covered how many hours my good wife, then a part-time teacher returning from maternity leave, had put in. The results when added up showed that despite the fact she was only supposed to be working three days a week, she had accumulated 38.5 hours.

Now that she has returned full-time she finds herself much more aligned with the teachers reporting in the workload survey, finally published by the Westminster Government thanks to NUT pressure, a huge increase in their workloads. That survey shows that the average primary school teacher is working close to 60 hours a week while secondary teachers are on average racking up close to 56 hours. All of this while the pay and pensions of teachers are being reduced. The slogan work longer, receive less and pay more has never been more accurate. Not only are the Westminster Government expecting teachers to put in more years they are expecting them to put in more hours per week as well. All for the gratitude of a reduced pensions at the end.

While the survey doesn’t show Welsh specific data it wouldn’t be a shock to expect those figures to be at least as high here. The £604 per pupil less funding does have implications in terms of spreading teachers even thinner on the ground and therefore having to cover more workload. We also know that junior and infant class numbers in Wales have been slowly, but steadily, increasing year on year since 2004 and with that comes additional workload pressures.

There’s little doubt that this current trend is unsustainable. It is leading to high quality and enthusiastic teachers leaving the profession early, while those that remain are burning out. It is beyond belief that anyone looking at these statistics could be naive enough to ignore the potentially drastic impact they will have on teaching as a profession and the quality of education available to pupils in Wales and across the UK as a whole.