Member Blog: 11th February 2019

Workload: finding the balance

   

 

Carrie McMillan

SCITT Lead, South West Teacher Training

In the midst of February, and my winter weary trainees may disagree with me, but this is actually a really positive time to be entering the profession. The noises coming from the Department for Education (DfE) in the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy, and from Ofsted around the new inspection frameworks, indicate a genuine understanding that teacher workload has become unsustainable.

At South West Teacher Training, our applicants all acknowledge that teaching is a tough profession and many are excited to throw themselves into a career they know will be all-consuming. That is what they are looking for, whether they come to us directly from university or as career changers later in life. Our trainees express a strong sense of moral purpose. They are joining us because they want to make a difference. The Recruitment and Retention Strategy highlights the recruitment challenges faced by schools in difficult circumstances, but we have found there is a real thirst in our trainees to work in these ‘tough’ schools, where they feel they can make the biggest difference.

Our trainees are also well aware that in a time of teacher shortages, the recruitment market acts in their favour. Many of our partner schools serving disadvantaged communities have made massive strides in ensuring they look after the teachers they recruit. Real efforts have been made in those schools to establish behaviour management systems that mean teachers’ day-to-day experience is more positive; automated homework and assessment systems that reduce teacher workload around marking and admin; and they are building truly collaborative cultures that reduce individual teacher workload around planning. It is no surprise that these are the schools our trainees want to work in.

This year we have experienced our fair share of promising recruits withdrawing from the course citing workload as a key reason for not wanting to continue. We have tried to respond to this by stripping out unnecessary evidence gathering, relying more on judgements built up over time. Our trainees no longer need to chase signatures on every lesson observation, or print reams of paper to be slotted into poly-wallets and lever arch files. Instead, we are seeking more automated solutions to storing evidence and are reducing the frequency of assessment points, focusing more of what we do on our impact on pupils.

But we walk a tightrope in managing workload, as schools will do. Because not every piece of evidence is printed and signed by mentors, does that mean our processes lack rigour? Because current trainee evidence folders are now half the size they would have been a few years ago, does that mean our procedures are not thorough enough? Schools will also have to tread this line under the new Ofsted framework; they must not collect unnecessary data, but will reduced progress-tracking harm pupil performance?

It is easy to despair about trainee drop-out rates. But at South West Teacher Training we are seeing it as a part of tipping point in the culture of our profession. The teachers of the future are going to be carefully choosing where they work. They are telling us they want to have fulfilling, all-consuming careers where they can make a difference. But they are also telling us that they will not tolerate a punitive, wasteful workload culture. As ITT providers, I think this is a mindset we ought to be safe to encourage.

 


Provider details: South West Teacher Training

Website: https://www.swtt.net/

Twitter: @swttexeter

 

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