Ministers won't tackle workload: we need the NEU to make a difference

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27 February 2017 by Nansi Ellis
Government appears to have a workload problem. Trying to leave the European Union, along with attempting to make sure that Britain has a strong future outside the EU, seems to be taking up everyone’s time.
Teacher alone in empty school

Or at least, that’s one possible reason why we still haven’t seen the results from the teacher workload survey which DfE carried out almost a year ago.

And that’s a pity, because Britain’s future will depend in large part on a strong education system, with skilled and experienced teachers who aren’t bowed under the pressure of unnecessary workload: the recent Industrial Strategy is littered with references to literacy and numeracy skills, the importance of STEM and technical qualifications and the place of schools and colleges in making these happen.

It’s becoming a bit of a joke, the non-publication of the results. Because the problem of workload is increasing, its impacts being more widely and deeply felt. And also because the drivers of this workload have changed since the survey was undertaken.

More and more, I’m hearing from AMiE members who are forced to deal with funding cuts by increasing class sizes, increasing contact time with pupils, and increasing the number of pupils for whom staff have pastoral duties.

For staff, bigger classes mean more marking, and an increased volume of data entry, more reports to write, more parents to meet; more pastoral care can mean more meetings with agencies, pupils and families, and more forms to fill in, while also meaning less time to spend with pupils who are doing OK; and of course, increased contact time means less time outside the classroom to do this stuff, without encroaching even more on your own life outside school.

But those cuts keep on coming, and while the national funding formula is a reasonable way of distributing money, there is no more money in the pot: schools have made as many ‘efficiency savings’ as they can, and the only way that saving money is ‘do-able’ now is by cutting subjects and staffing, thereby increasing workload for those who are left.

This is compounded by the recruitment and retention crisis, which ATL has been warning of for a very long time. Almost a quarter of secondary schools are reporting staff vacancies, and unfortunately, the Government’s proposals for increasing school-led teacher training and forcing an apprenticeship route onto schools only further increases workload. It’s also unlikely to offer the best experience for those who train in this way: mentoring, coaching and supporting new teachers takes time, and anyway, who wants to stay in a profession which is running to stand still.

ATL is lobbying hard about these issues. Our major impact on workload for members is in workplaces, and our workload campaign has brought about large numbers of workplace meetings, members getting together to identify what the key pressures are, and to find ways to resolve them. We have seen well-being committees set up, policies changed on marking and planning, members using the DfE workload working group reports, and ATL’s own guidance and CPD making a difference in their day-to-day working lives.

We’ve seen Nottingham, working with the unions, develop a workload charter, and other areas looking to do similar. This is extremely important, and each success story is a gain for individuals and an inspiration for members in other workplaces.

But imagine if almost everyone in your workplace belonged to one union, if a National Education Union could work with leadership members alongside teacher and support staff members, to broker solutions that worked for everyone. Imagine if a team of reps could share the work in organising meetings and developing surveys.

Imagine if your local branch or district could bring together hundreds of members to share effective practices, to take part in CPD, and to support each other to say ‘no’ to those unnecessary tasks that seem to proliferate when we’re too busy to think about it.

What power you would have, within that union, to make a difference to your working lives, and to the education of the children and young people you work with.

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Workload and hours