No more weekend emails, no more triple marking – how one school is helping with teacher workload
With wellbeing and workload high on the educational agenda, our small school has taken the initiative to make these issues a workplace priority.
We’ve done this via the following practical steps that recognise the pressures schools face in an era of cutbacks, all the while bearing in mind our six wellbeing principles (which you can find at the end of this article).
When it comes to planning, our key question is: who is the plan for? It should be for the teacher and the class, not the head or subject leader and certainly not Ofsted. Gone are the days of lessons being judged according to the plan and not the content.
Detailed evaluations aren’t needed either. Good teachers know their children and know what went well or otherwise in their lessons.
Detailed planning and resourcing, including flipcharts, take time. As a school we make use of a range of published materials which we annotate and adapt as we see fit. Because this reduces planning time, we can focus on resourcing and activities that promote learning.
No more triple marking
There is no escape from marking. It needs to be done and is an expectation of the role. However, triple marking, extensive comments, multiple pen colours, stamps and stickers might mean it takes three hours to mark one set of books. What is the use in writing ten lines of comments only for the child to ignore it or not be able to read it? We decided that marking is effective in the form of feedback. When marking writing we use simple symbols for spelling, grammar and areas for improvement.
We still employ pink and green highlighters as the children fed back that they found this useful.
Self-marking, peer marking and simple self-assessment also form part of our strategy.
When we still had levels, too much data was produced and, crucially, wasn’t used effectively for the benefit of the children and their progress. We have abandoned our web hosted recording system in favour of term-by-term testing of reading and maths using a reliable set of materials.
Standardised scores are trackable and don’t differ too greatly from scaled scores used in new statutory assessment. Teacher assessment alone would not provide this reliability and also burdens the teacher in tracking down evidence or designing activities which provide evidence rather than promote learning. We have also streamlined written reports and these are now produced mid-year so that teachers can focus on year end outcomes in the summer.
No weekend email
Staff receive a weekly email containing essential information such as dates for reports, parents evenings and events. Deadlines are given with plenty of notice; no meeting or event is a surprise. We ask staff not to read emails at evenings and weekends. If something is absolutely vital, we text or call.
Staff meetings are an hour in length at most. Support and lunch staff have their own dedicated meetings in school time with cover provided.
We provide a team breakfast at diary briefings and a team lunch on Fridays. We’ve also bought a four pint teapot to provide a social focus at lunchtime.
Someone is always keen to bring in cake too! We have jovial staffroom banter but if someone oversteps the mark, a quiet word usually suffices.
We recognise and reward contributions with a ‘shout out’ board and wellbeing buddies.
It’s the small things that can mean a lot, be it a kind word or a surprise chocolate biscuit.
We encourage staff to have no more than two hours non-contact time daily, and SLT no more than three. In report writing season we give four hours of release to class teachers, covered by the SLT.
Being able to give occasional additional release at times of pressure is also part of our wellbeing strategy.
Has it worked?
Wellbeing cannot be a ‘bolt-on’ to the running of the school. A token ‘wellbeing day’ and some half-hearted Inset is not enough. Wellbeing is for the benefit of everyone and is the responsibility of the whole team. The approach we’ve taken isn’t ‘top down’ or ‘bottom up’, rather it is ‘sideways in’ to embed it in the culture of the school. Although wellbeing is an abstract concept, it involves realistic and practical solutions.
The changes we’ve made aren’t the perfect solution, but they suit our school and the needs of our children and staff. Evaluation, particularly of marking workload, needs to be in place and we need to be mindful of everyone in our team. Writing reports mid-year did save time and the fuller impact of this will be felt this month when teachers elsewhere are compiling full reports.
Wellbeing and workload are not simple to manage and there will be challenges on the way, but we have the best foundation: team spirit, colleagues who stand by and up for each other, a positive culture and leaders who want to make this work.
My school’s six wellbeing principles
1. Positive culture
2. An energising environment
3. Effective leaders and managers
4. Excellent working relationships
5. Career satisfaction
6. Healthy lifestyle
Andrew Cowley is deputy headteacher at Orchard Primary in Sidcup and co-founder of Healthy Toolkit where he blogs about a range of wellbeing matters.
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