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Vic Goddard – Less is More

  • Vic Goddard – Less is More

Vic Goddard’s been considering ‘the workload issue’ – and reckons the solution isn’t really that complicated…

Dear Diary,

Today was a long day. We had a great awards evening but it’s now 10.30pm, I’ve just got home and I started work at some point near 7am. I’m tired. I only had two lessons to teach today and I’ve only got one tomorrow. I really want to look at the work the class did today to help me make some alterations to my plan for tomorrow’s lesson. It should only take half an hour or so. But I’m knackered. The first half term is always like this for me, with some big whole school events and trying to get the year started right.

I lied. It hasn’t taken half an hour. It’s midnight and I’ve just got it done.

I’m not moaning. I have no right to moan. I control the calendar and I thought having Awards Night in the last week was a good idea. I didn’t teach five lessons today. I’m not teaching five tomorrow. I haven’t got break duty. I probably won’t be taken for cover. I haven’t got young children at home relying on me to do things for them (but it would be good to see my son awake for a change). Yet I’m tired.

I wonder how my NQT in maths is feeling? I see she has got five lessons tomorrow… I MUST ALWAYS REMEMBER THE FIVE-LESSON DAYS!

Short measures

Of course I am actually writing this in the comfort of my lounge with the test match on and feeling a lot less tired than I’m describing; but a diary entry like the one above is not an unusual occurrence for me, and I am fully aware that my teaching load is a fraction of most of the teachers’ up and down the country. So should it be a surprise to read on the BBC website a few months ago that “More than 50% of teachers in England ‘plan to quit in next two years’”?

What can I do to try and stop this happening at our school, to our students? Workload is without doubt a key influence – especially when put alongside an accountability system like no other in the world, a curriculum/ assessment regime that is a political football and a teacher shortage that is already piling on yet more pressure?

Last autumn I appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire Show alongside the Chair of the Education Select Committee, Neil Carmichael MP. It was somewhat frustrating that Mr Carmichael proceeded to tell me that there is also a shortage of engineers and the government needs to do something about that too. There is one point that he missed – who is going to teach these engineers of the future maths if we don’t do something about staff workload and the other current challenges to teacher recruitment and retention?

I am someone who tries to think what I can do first, before expecting someone as removed from our school as the Secretary of State to fix anything. Managing workloads should be a challenge that all leaders in education, at all levels, are trying to meet.

When I talk to staff I normally hear the same thing back: “I have no issue with working hard. I’m a teacher and I expect to do that, but the accumulation of constant change and uncertainty and everything else we do as teachers is getting too much”. At Passmores we have therefore looked at the ‘big three’ areas – planning, marking and assessment/reporting – and made some changes.

Sharp focus

Why would we have a one-size-fits-all planning regime? There are some lessons when the five-minute lesson plan is enough, and others where we need to have more depth of thought. Why on earth would I dictate from above what is THE way? Even Ofsted have stopped doing that. Ask @HarfordSean – he is really good at reinforcing these key messages.

The marking loads of staff are so varied and so specific to particular months, subjects and year groups that setting a ‘standard’ way is virtually impossible, if we stop and think about it for a minute or two. The obvious mindset shift to seeing marking as a PART of feedback should allow us to treat our professionals like the experts in their field that we employed them to be. We have tried to focus on broadening our understanding of the different ways we can provide feedback, choosing what is appropriate and when.

The issues around assessment are wrapped up in our interpretations of what Ofsted want to see to show progress, I think. We have tried to avoid the constant assessments and recording of results that could quite easily have increased our workloads exponentially.

In a nutshell, as a school we have desperately tried to focus on what our young people need, and when – never on what an inspector may want – and have taken some of the pressure off ourselves as a result. If, as a profession, we truly focus on delivering the lessons, feedback and assessments that are needed for the success of our young people, maybe the Secretary of State can do more than ‘recognise’ that there is an issue and actually stand up for the professionals that she represents.

Delivery of just three things would help us immeasurably: more qualified teachers; a stable and appropriate curriculum/assessment regime; and the money to pay for what we need to do to help our students succeed.

If that happens, I suspect the profession itself could sort out some of the crazy demands we are placing on ourselves to keep ‘the inspectors’ happy. It would certainly help my workload!

Follow Vic Godard at @vicgoddard

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