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.
November 21, 2015 at 11:57 am
I think you have exemplified some of the problem in the blogpost. (I think it is a good post, though). You appear to blame politicians, SLT, Society and teachers; but mostly teachers, with SLT having a (non)supporting role. Teachers should be less worried, and less competitive with peers, and less influenced by the school culture, and less influenced by societal expectations.
At the individual school level it all starts with the Head/SLT. These are the people who determine the school’s work culture. The bulk of the other staff will respond to their lead. But, as you indicate, this isn’t easy. It requires clarity of thought, nuance thinking, and very careful implementation.
Good luck (genuinely meant).
November 21, 2015 at 7:13 pm
I am trying not to blame but rather highlight the complexity of behaviours. I agree the SLT (lead by the head) set that culture and this has to be the driving force behind a better work environment.
November 21, 2015 at 1:46 pm
This so resonates with me. I have a class set of books to mark and the same class have just done a GCSE Q test. Marking the tests and analysing what I need to go over and what individuals need to revisit is worthwhile and works. Looking through the books to try and find a spelling mistake to highlight is a waste of time, but I have to do it even though it will have no impact.
There I’ve said it, wish I was trusted to do my job. I am not lazy and I do know what I am doing.
Oh well, back to the book pile…
November 21, 2015 at 7:15 pm
I feel for you if this is true. I will hang my head in shame on behalf of your SLT…
November 21, 2015 at 2:08 pm
Part of the issue is that the curriculum is overloaded. Another problem is that demonstrating literacy and skills cross curricularly inevitably means twice the writing to mark. e.g. last week I had the diary we developed in literacy but then I also had newspaper reports about the execution of Charles I written in topic. If the newspaper report is to have a genuine purpose then it needs to be properly marked as a piece of writing not just as a piece of history – this takes significantly longer. In an ideal world I would give all my feedback verbally.- it works much better and in reality I do that – but it has to be squeezed in during registration or in 5 minutes at the beginning of maths. But the marking policy says that because OFSTED now rely so heavily on book scrutiny to acknowledge progress, I must also write a comment saying what they did well and saying that I have verbally fed back! I must also add codes such as TS – teacher support, I independent, VF verbal feedback so that my lesson and my interactions with each child are laid out for all to see that I spoke to a child and then they could do it. None of it onerous for 1 book – but when it has to be done daily for each lesson for each child it adds up. These codes and comments do nothing to improve my teaching – its the knowledge and the verbal feedback that do that.
November 21, 2015 at 4:24 pm
An interesting post and some lovely ideas but sadly not implemented, often because “what Ofsted want to see” not what’s actually good practise. In my school, it lead to the situation where I was expected to write (relatively) detailed marking on work of children who couldn’t read yet. What is the point of that? In case Ofsted look.
November 21, 2015 at 4:38 pm
I think we need to check more with what Ofsted say rather than what SLT say Ofsted say.
November 21, 2015 at 7:17 pm
Agree with the overloaded curriculum. Sometimes this is the most exciting thing (I want to teach everything) but the testing culture makes the curriculum a distraction rather than the driver.
November 21, 2015 at 3:36 pm
“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.”
November 21, 2015 at 4:37 pm
Thank you… It is a hard thing to hand over. I still struggle.
November 21, 2015 at 9:03 pm
Certainly the long hours in primary are one of the main reasons I left. Plus never thinking you’re on top of it all. Or that you’re doing a good enough job. Or that your focusing on what’s really important. Lots of good people have left and will leave. But the govt will just ignore this, talk about getting rid of bad teachers, bringing in academic new blood who can be paid less for the few years they last… As
Russell Hobby stated today, education is an investment, not a cost.
November 22, 2015 at 7:56 am
From my experience in primary schools and having a 15 year old at a secondary school where marking is largely non existent, I would suggest that quality (please note I mean quality, not amount) marking has an clear impact on outcomes, although I can’t think that many professionals would expect detailed marking feedback for children who can’t yet read. Nevertheless, I fully appreciate that expectations on teachers are sky high and we have now reached the point whereby there are serious recruitment and retention issues.
The answer lies in being creative in school policy. Ofsted do not dictate what should and shouldn’t be marked, nor how often or to what detail. In a nutshell, they will look at the school’s policy, take it into account in terms of outcomes and then check for consistency. It is therefore for the school to balance these priorities to ensure the best outcomes for their children and produce a sensible policy to achieve this.
I don’t think it is to controversial to suggest that most often, where marking policy is weak and / or there is inconsistent adherence to it, outcomes tend to follow.
March 28, 2016 at 3:54 pm
I am currently a trainee primary school teacher in the second year of a Bed course and after reading this I am so glad that I am not the only one who thinks that this teaching ‘culture’ of getting to school at 8 (in some cases I have experienced teachers getting in at 6:30) and leaving at 7:30. I can completely identify the NQT sobbing over the black coffee as myself only a few short weeks ago- I was so completely exhausted and tired that although I was marking, planning and preparing resources for the following day or week, these long hours were actually making my marking or preparation less effective and to not as high a standard. The NUT (although this was in 2009) stated that the majority of teachers spend over 50 hours a week in school- thats an average of 10 hours a day within the school environment before the individual has gone home to tend to other matters. For the salary of an NQT starting at £22,000 per annum- surely the government can see that for many teachers their work/pay balance is so unbalanced!