Teacher workload is ridiculous… and there is one reason for it

Most of us have tried to do our part to reduce teacher workload but it still remains a ridiculous burden.  Attempts to reduce the workload include:

  • reduce the paperwork;
  • don’t mark every piece of work;
  • plan in the way that helps you teach rather than follow an expected format;
  • give Teaching Assistants ‘preparation’ tasks; take a bit of PPA time, etc.

None of this has made much of a difference.  That’s because those things that we took away from teachers were not the key reason for unreasonable workload.  The real reason comes down to one word: Lessons.

There is an unwritten expectation that a ‘lesson’ is a single event.  In each ‘event’ there is often an expectation that there is:

  • a new objective
  • success criteria
  • differentiated activities
  • key words
  • resources
  • measurable ‘achievement’ or ‘progress’ by the end of the lesson.

Some teachers have five or more of these events to plan for every day.  Differentiated in the traditional three-way split, that’s:

  • 15 activities per day to plan in advance
  • Multiply that by five days a week and we get 75 different activities per week
  • 25 lessons
  • 25 sets of key words
  • 25 sets of resources and
  • 25 tasks for the teaching assistant
  • That’s 175 planning activities per week.

Then there’s the marking. There’s a whole host of strategies schools use, but they all take time.  Let’s take an average of 30 pupils in a class, that’s

  • 150 tasks to give feedback on each day
  • 750 tasks to give feedback on each week.

Does your marking policy say comments need to be acted on and then re marked?

In that case, double the 750 feedback tasks and make that 1500 tasks per week.

Thats what’s unreasonable.  Not only is it unreasonable, it needs some sort of professional debate.  Expecting that learning can take place in forty five minutes to an hour is a very strange notion that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.  Did you learn to tie your shoe laces in forty five minutes?  Did you learn to use an adjective effectively in forty five minutes? Most teachers don’t ‘achieve’ learning in a lesson; they achieve ‘coverage’ of the curriculum.  Coverage is not the same as learning.

Here at Chris Quigley Education we believe that learning happens over time.  It comes from the cumulative effect of lots of experiences not the aggregation of lesson 1 plus lesson 2 and so on.

We define a lesson as:

One area of provision designed to ADVANCE UNDERSTANDING

(rather than to ‘achieve’ learning.)

That means the best you should hope for in a lesson is that pupils nudge and shuffle a bit closer to their goals, but we’ll all be back tomorrow, and the next day and for the next few years, trying to nudge the pupils gradually toward their goals.

This is, in fact, the nature of a mastery curriculum.  Objectives are not ‘achieved’ and ticked off.  Instead, they need to be repeated over and over to gradually deepen pupils’ understanding of them.

So, if you are interested in reducing teacher workload don’t create another To DO list. Instead, create a STOP DOING list:

  1. Stop thinking a lesson is an event in itself.  It’s  just part of the process of learning.
  2. Stop thinking that each lesson needs a new objective – whats wrong with sticking with the same objectives over and over and gradually deepening pupils’ understanding of them?
  3. Stop thinking there needs to be differentiation in each lesson.  Differentiation is not an end in itself – its a tool to help pupils understand; it should be used only when necessary.
  4. Stop thinking that learning needs to be ‘achieved’ by the end of the lesson – the best you can hope for is that pupils have shuffled forwards (and some have completely forgotten yesterday so you’ll have to go and scoop them up)
  5. Stop parents asking their child ‘What did you learn today?’  Because the answer is probably, ‘Nothing particularly new.  We’re just nudging and shuffling forwards but having a great time on the way.’
  6. Stop thinking about the quality of individual lessons.  Instead think about the cumulative effect of your teaching.
  7. Stop marking the event.  Feedback happens over time and, as a result,  pupils gradually understand.

Change the mindset of what a lesson is and watch teacher workload sort itself out.


If you’d like to be inspired come along to our conference Learning Without Lessons

If you’d like to see what the Government is trying to do to reduce workload, but focusing on the symptoms not the cause, read here

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