I have been pondering this one for some time. I have no new answers. I do have a perspective and a will to do something about it though.
I am in the middle of a wellbeing survey of teachers at my school. Question 1 asks:
“Do you feel you have enough time to do your job effectively?”
Of the 15 or so I have looked at so far they overwhelmingly say, NO. Marking is the biggest culprit.
I need to know why this is. I am not saying I want my teachers to mark every piece or I want reams of intelligent reflection on why a lesson did not hit the mark for a given child… In fact I ‘think’ I am saying the opposite. I am saying mark when you think you need to mark. Focus on the main part of your craft – moving children through their learning. No one knows this better than a good teacher. Cue, everyone marking almost every day. Point 1, as a leader you really do need to reflect on your choice of words and how they are interpreted.
I think (Like many aspects of education) marking is still the in-vogue thing. Leaders and teachers believe it is effective because we are told (mainly) that it is effective – evidenced or not. We do our marking scrutiny… but do we really understand the impact? My experience of a marking scruty is mainly:
A: the teacher is marking,
B: the teacher is not marking
C: the teacher is following our marking scheme
D: a child responded to the marking (it must be good!)
I also believe that there are other factors to consider. That work is virtuous, that there is a conscience in education that controls our actions. The martyred teacher…I have seen this in every school I have ever worked in. The teacher who arrives at 6am (with a trolley and two carrier bags of ‘stuff?’) and leaves last (Who is still in the staffroom saying they have so much to do – as the NQT quietly weeps over their black coffee).
I have a proposition. What if we made a law that all teachers could not be in school before 8 am and had to leave by 5pm? Would they be more effective? Or would they resent me as they bundled their books into the back of their car to take home? I am (the mad progressive) a fan of Bertrand Russell and I do believe in the sense that many feel ‘lazy unless you are making work… creating the fallacy of work’. The development of the old ‘Satan finds some mischief for idle hands’. We have just replaced ‘Satan’ with the fear of idleness in the gaze of the DFE, Ofsted, SLT or any number of top down organisations. I am not for a second dismissing the impact they have but I am questioning our collective will to ignore them unless they really are making the jobs we do better.
The hard thing for teachers (especially primary) is the fact that from 9 to 3 (approx.) we have the important part of our jobs to focus on. Therefore, marking and planning is something to do from around 3:45 onwards usually. Is it possible to do all that days marking, resource the next day and get home before Master Chef? It is… but we know the toll this is taking on the profession and most importantly on far TOO many teachers wellbeing. It really has to stop.
Things that would help would be:
Leaders have to spend less time being analytical about a craft they are no longer the practicing expert in and more time on creating the climate and ethos they want teachers to thrive in.
Long hours does not = more effective practice.
In fact research shows that the longer you work the less effective you become. It all starts going wrong after 45 hrs and by 70 hrs you are so ineffective that you need to spend more time covering up your mistakes than you needed to spend doing the original job you were employed to do.
Therefore, leaders need to think carefully about their schools. Do a stress survey and after you stop crying and feeling all hurt about what your staff think of you. Act on it. Put the survey up in the staffroom with a:
You said X
We are going to do Y
Take it really seriously. If you dig a little deeper you will also find that your teaching assistants are even unhappier (but that is a slightly different issue).
Teachers also need to take a breath and look around. Stop feeling guilty about leaving before other colleagues and start feeling good about how you are focussed on the core aspects of your class. Start thinking carefully about what you are focussed on. So often teachers have come to me saying they are overloaded and when we have coached through it there are many aspects TOP TRUMPING the really important deadlines and issues needing to be done. Sadly, they are usually things like clubs, projects or topics. I wish they were not but if you are feeling that pressure something has to go. You need to find a way for the leaders in your school (Middle onwards) to listen and understand this. I know that this will not always be easy. But I know this much about leadership. When teachers come yelling collectively you ignore them at your peril.
I am not saying you need to work harder for fewer hours. I am asking that we think about working more effectively in those hours. I think there are too many flaming the problem by quoting their hours as though this is the most effective thing they do in education. It is not. Why mark 30 books when only 4 children need to be looked at in detail because you felt they struggled and another 2 seemed to fly?
My father still thinks I get to school for 9 and I leave at 3:30 (with his tongue now firmly in his cheek) but he is not alone. I think that here lies the root of why this issue will be so hard to overcome. There are too many cultural issues firewalling our way through this. It can only really be solved when everyone comes together to tackle the work hour virus. There may be little islands of rational practice where teachers feel less stressed than in other schools. This will not be enough to change the culture. Sadly, MPs are the worst people to help us do this because they work in a stress blind culture themselves…
And there I go. I go and write a bloody sentence that dis-proves everything I was trying to say. On one hand we can only solve this together he says and then the idiot went and burst his own bubble.
He’s my plea to leaders again. You really do not need the government to write a policy on reducing the workload… You need to write it yourselves, with your staff and with your community. That is the only way I see this issue being solved. Unless of course there is a ‘real’ will within our political parties to take this issue seriously rather than play lip service.