Graham Cooper from Juniper Education advises that if your teachers are snowed under with admin, stretched to the limit with tasks or spending precious evenings and weekends on planning, then workload is a problem for your school.
Heavy workloads have been a major issue for schools and teachers alike for the past few years.
In 2020, 31% of education professionals were working more than 51 hours a week according to the Teacher Wellbeing Index published by Education Support. Juggling planning, marking, pupil assessment and communication with parents all take their toll.
Naturally, these tasks come with the territory, but all too often they take longer than necessary and can spill over into personal time, making teachers feel like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.
No doubt your team already knows you are committed to reducing their workload but with all the changes schools have had to manage during the pandemic, new tasks have likely been added to everyone’s to-do list.
So, if you have not already done a review of what tasks are currently eating up staff time, now is the moment to start making change happen.
Although the idea of a task review may sound like another ‘task’ it’s quick to achieve and has long-lasting results.
You can start by asking your teachers to write down four or five administrative tasks that they do every day and rank them high to low in terms of time and effort to complete and their impact on teaching and learning. Ask them to comment on what they think would be the consequence if they stopped doing these and whether it would have a negative effect on teaching and learning.
If there are tasks which chip away valuable time each day without helping children, then these are the ones to look at first to see if they can be done differently or not at all.
Effective Time Management
The next step is to encourage teachers to employ time management skills. One method that works very well is allocating designated times to each task and setting cut off points once that time is completed.
For example, teachers can set themselves a time of one hour for lesson planning. When that time is up, they move on to marking or whatever is next on their list. They can then do another hour of lesson planning another time but by breaking the process up into short slots, most people inevitably get more done, rather than when they try and spend three hours on the same task.
Again you can weigh each task up against their impact on teaching and learning and decide what tasks get the biggest chunks of your time.
Curriculum planning time
Despite the introduction of PPA time many teachers dedicate hours of their lives on the evenings, weekends, and holidays to creating great lessons. Often planning sessions in schools are interrupted by calls or other tasks.
It might be that by implementing a few small changes, your teachers would get more from their PPA time so they don’t have to use so much of their out of school time on the task.
You could carry out a straw poll to ask teachers what one thing would help them get more from their PPA time. Then check back in with your staff to let them know if you can accommodate their suggestions.
This could involve shifting someone’s PPA time to the morning when there are likely to be fewer interruptions or giving teachers a longer session every fortnight rather than once a week. Alternatively, it might make a world of difference to your teachers if they could work collaboratively during these sessions.
Or you could set up a workshop session and invite everyone to come with an example of a great lesson and the impact it had, as well as an example of a lesson that didn’t work so well, and some thoughts on why. It’s a positive way to share best practices and saves teachers reinventing the wheel in their planning.
Good communication has taken on a whole new importance in the age of coronavirus, with schools having to keep staff informed of urgent messages relating to health matters, absences, rotas and changing guidelines. However, if you mark every email ‘urgent’, people will soon switch off and the genuinely urgent messages get lost in the background noise.
Draw up a quick questionnaire to ask everyone what the best way is to contact them for an urgent message. Then ask which way they prefer to hear about a news item or an event announcement.
Give them a range of options such as a phone call, email or text message. You could also suggest other tools your school uses such as Teams, WhatsApp or the school app.
When you have your answers, set out a standard communications method for urgent and non-urgent messages.
People are likely to have strong preferences, so bear in mind you won’t be able to please everyone, but this will help select the best options for the majority. Ask everyone to stick with those communication channels, if possible, as this will simplify the way you communicate, eliminate duplication, and ultimately save time.
These strategies are key to helping schools win back more time for themselves and their staff. By asking staff to contribute to the changes, you will get everyone on board with your school’s new, more efficient ways of working, and teachers will have more time to spend with pupils.
For more ideas on how to save time, visit https://junipereducation.org/10dayproject/ for a set of free resources from Juniper Education aimed at primary school leaders.