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What Exactly is a ‘Reasonable’ Teacher Workload?

Read one city’s practical solution to the problem of excessive teacher workloads...

  • What Exactly is a ‘Reasonable’ Teacher Workload?

The message from headteachers is stark: they are unable to recruit the teachers they need to continue to drive up standards. The situation is particularly difficult for schools serving disadvantaged communities.

We have to face facts: teaching as it is now is no longer an attractive career choice for many. Unless we change what it is like to be a teacher, we will continue to struggle to recruit.

Teachers have always worked long hours but in the last decade or so, the demands upon them have ramped up to unreasonable and unsustainable levels.

An NUT survey in 2015 found that over half of teachers were thinking of leaving the profession in the next two years, citing ‘volume of workload’ (61%) and ‘seeking better work/life balance’ (57%) as the two top issues causing them to consider this.

In Nottingham, we’ve decided to do something about it. Most responses to the city’s Education Improvement Board’s own consultation on its strategic plan asked it to act to address recruitment and retention of staff.

Following this, a sub-group was formed with representatives of headteacher, teacher and school staff unions to come up with some proposals.

Key to the success of this was finding a middle ground which meant that headteachers were confident that their schools would still deliver good provision and improve outcomes, while school staff unions could be certain that the proposals would actually cut their members’ excessive workloads.

Finding that sweet spot was greatly helped by the reports of the three DfE working parties, established following the government’s own workload challenge consultation.

They provided well-argued and clear recommendations which we were able to take to form the basis of the Nottingham fair workload charter.

In brief, the charter defines what ‘reasonable’ means in terms of the additional hours teachers are expected to work beyond directed time each day.

For us, this means that school policies should be deliverable within no more than an additional two hours a day beyond directed time for teachers (and three hours a day for those with leadership responsibilities).

For staff other than teachers, policies should be reasonably deliverable within their contracted hours.

Schools adopting the charter receive the Education Improvement Board fair workload logo to use on their adverts and publicity.

This reassures potential applicants about the workload demands that will be placed on them in choosing a charter school over one elsewhere that has not adopted it.

This is also being endorsed by ETeach; if a school has adopted the charter, the Fair Workload Charter mark is added to their advertisements.

Nottingham schools and academies are currently consulting on adopting the charter. Some have formally adopted it already and we are anticipating more will come aboard soon.

Interested schools are first expected to have discussions with their governing bodies, followed by appointing a governor responsible for staff wellbeing.

They will then be expected to hold regular meetings to discuss the impact of the charter and identify the tasks most likely to cause issues.

In order to address individual and systemic issues, CPD is also essential. Policies need to be regularly reviewed with a focus on reducing unnecessary burdens on staff and, of course, improving outcomes for pupils.

Schools adopting the charter are sent a toolkit to aid implementation. Although the charter will differ in each school, what is important is creating a culture where workload can be discussed openly and transparently.

The board hopes that it has found a local solution to a national problem – one that will make teaching in Nottingham attractive again.



Sally Pearce is co-headteacher of Seely Primary in Nottingham.

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