At least everyone is now talking about teacher workload

DfE press officers were unusually busy yesterday, with several announcements made to coincide with the Secretary of State’s speech at the NAHT conference in Liverpool – not a professional association solely for primary leaders, as some seem to imagine, but for leaders in all schools.

One of the most important announcements was that of the formation of a Workload Advisory Group to be chaired by Professor Becky Allen, the director for new Centre for Education Improvement Science at UCL’s Institute of Education. The appearance of senior representatives from the teacher associations among the membership makes this look like a reformation of the former body that existed under the Labour government. Assuming it produces proposals that are accepted by the DfE, then this Group should help Ministers restore some morale to the teaching profession by signalling that they are taking workload concerns seriously.

Announcements about the treatment of so called ‘coasting’ schools and forced academisation may well sound, if not the death knell, then certainly a slowing of primary schools opting to become academies. Why give up relative independence under local authority administration for the uncertain future as part of an Academy Trust, where the unelected trustees can decide to pillage your reserves and move on your best teachers and there is nothing you can do about the situation. That’s not jumping from the frying pan into the fire, but taking the risk of walking out of your house and leaving the front door wide open.

Hopefully, the Secretary of State is starting to move towards resolving the twin track governance system that has emerged since Labour and the Conservatives jointly decided to have a fit of collective amnesia about the key importance of place in schooling and also demonstrated a complete lack of the need for any democratic oversight of local education systems. My Liberal Democrat colleagues that demonstrated no opposition to academisation during the coalition government are, in my view, almost as equally to blame as the members of the other two main political parties for not recognising the need for significant local democratic involvement in our school system.

The Secretary of State might now be asked to go further and adopt the 2016 White Paper view that in-year admissions for all schools should be coordinated by local authorities; a local politician with responsibility for schools should also once again have a voting position on schools forum rather than just an observer role, especially as the NAHT have pointed out the growing importance of the High Needs Block and SEND education where links between mainstream schools and the special school sector is a key local authority responsibility. http://www.naht.org.uk/news-and-opinion/news/funding-news/naht-analysis-of-high-needs-funding/

The idea of a sabbatical mentioned by the Secretary of State was discussed in an earlier post on this blog, but there was little else on teacher recruitment in his speech.

If you want to listen to my thoughts on the present state of teacher recruitment, then Bath Spa University have just published a podcast in their Staffroom series where I answer a series of questions. You can access the podcast at https://soundcloud.com/user-513936641/the-staff-room-episode-10-crisis-in-recruitment and my interview is followed by a discussion between leading staff at the university on the same topic.

 

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100 days and counting

Mr Hinds has now been in post as Secretary of State of Education just beyond the 100 day point, regarded as the first milestone for a politician by many commentators. During the same period in 2010 Michael Gove had already achieved the passing of the infamous 2010 Academies Act, despite having had to wait for the creation of the Coalition. However much many of us dislike its contents, and the subsequent effect on schooling in England, one must admire the political foresight of Mr Gove and his team of advisers.

As with all Mr Gove’s successors, there has been little sign of the same degree of ambition from the present incumbent of the office at Sanctuary Buildings. Now it is true that a minority government is in an even weaker position with regard to legislation than even a coalition. However, one of Michael Gove’s first acts at Defra this January was to attend both the Oxford Farming Conference and it alternative unofficial counterpart down the road. In doing so, he was making a clear political statement.

So, what has been achieved in the first 100 days by the Secretary of State for Education? Judging by Mr Hind’s speech to the ASCL Conference in March, it is more a matter of emphasis and a nudge here and there, than dealing with the big picture issues. A pause on changes in assessment and testing; more emphasis on reducing workload to calm down the teaching profession and a nod to the importance of technology. A sort of steady as you go regime.

So, what’s still in the Secretary of State’s in-tray? School funding hasn’t gone away as an issue, although it doesn’t seem to be playing very big in local elections across England. Parents haven’t yet seen the real effects of tightening budget. The fact that two of the three remaining maintained secondary schools in Oxfordshire had deficits of more than £1 million each at the end of 2017-18 financial years tells of pain yet to come. School Funding could be a big issue for Whitehall if teachers’ pay increases this year are more than was estimated by the Treasury in its school funding models.

Such an increase seems likely, since the Secretary of State hasn’t managed to tackle the issue of providing an adequate supply of teachers and stemming the outflow of those already in the profession. National teacher shortages are always seen as the responsibility of the government at Westminster, and 2018 is still not looking very healthy on the recruitment into training front. Failure to recruit trainees will impact in 2019 on the ability of schools to recruit new teachers and allows plenty of time for profession to mount any number of campaigns. The joint letter from a number of organisations sent to Mr Hinds earlier this week may be just the first in a veritable salvo of concern about this issue.

For me, the Secretary of State could make his name by regularising the parallel systems of governance between locally overseen maintained schools and nationally managed academies. Although not exactly the same situation, Mr Hinds may recognise, coming from a hospitality industry background that the 2003 Licensing Act did away with the dual system of liquor licences being issued by Magistrates’ Court and entertainment licences by local authorities. Our dual governance system for schools is a mess and, as I have said before, doesn’t help some of our most vulnerable young people such as children taken into care that need a place in a different school.

But then, a concern with social mobility also didn’t seem to feature large in Mr Hind’s first 100 days.

Workload matters

The NfER has issued the third in their series of research updates on teacher recruitment and retention https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/NUFS04/ – scroll down the page for the download of the report.

The headline finding is that ‘on average, teachers’ pay doesn’t increase after they leave’. The authors suggest that this means leavers are not primarily motivated by increased pay. ‘Teachers appear to be more motivated by improved job satisfaction, reduced working hours and more opportunities for flexible working’. This research chimes with my long-held view that there are three key factors in ensuring sufficiency in the teacher workforce: pay; conditions and morale. A government might be able to underplay one element, but to affect all three is to ensure a teacher supply crisis by increasing departure rates to a level where numbers leaving cannot be replaced by new entrants.

Looking deeper into the NfER research, it is interesting to see the three groups used on page 5 of the report as the main outcomes for departure. 43% of leavers from state schools remain in schools, with the bulk switching to teach in the private sector. Only 1.6% in the NfER study become teaching assistants. This is low compared to the 15% NfER found in another study using a different cohort of interviewees.

Overall, only 10% of teacher leavers went into other employment, with a further 5% becoming self-employed. This latter group are rather confusingly included in the economically inactive group of outcomes in this study. If anything, this whole group may be a smaller proportion than in the past when there were more active local advisory and inspection teams and more money was being spend on supporting professional development and research creating more job opportunities. However, there will always be a need for some people with a teaching background to move into other careers. As with the switch to teaching in private schools, it would have been helpful to try to assess whether the percentages discovered in this survey were increasing or declining over recent times?

Finally, the percentage leaving the labour market and becoming economically inactive amounted to 49% of the total, with retirement account for 29% of the total for this group. Perhaps more significant was the 4% that reported being unemployed. Was this due to a partner’s move to an area where there were fewer teaching opportunities or down to having had enough of teaching as a career and taking stock before moving on? More analysis of this group would be illuminating, especially their profile and locations.

What is clear, as the National Audit Office reported earlier this year in their report, is that reducing departures from the profession helps alleviate the need to train more new entrants. The NfER research might have made it clearer that their study used data from a period when secondary school rolls were falling; it is interesting that they don’t have a category for ‘made redundant’, perhaps these teachers are in the ‘unemployed’ group.

With school rolls now on the increase, the messages from this research takes on a greater urgency and, as others have said, the use of part-time working opportunities for an increasingly female dominate classroom teacher workforce in secondary schools is becoming an area where schools now need to pay particular attention to what they can offer staff as it may help to retain some teachers. But, on the evidence of this study, the gain won’t be large. Even so, it is a necessary move.

 

 

Working harder, working smarter and generally longer

The DfE has just published its latest workload survey for teachers in primary and secondary schools. Not sure what happened to the special school sector. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teacher-workload-survey-2016 The survey was undertaken during the spring term of 2016 in order to make it as comparable as possible to the 2013 TALIS Survey produced by the OECD.

In the 1990s and 2000s, there were a series of dairy studies of workload conducted by the STRB. This report suggests that diary studies had relatively poor response rates because they were time consuming to complete. However, only 3,186 school teachers and leaders completed this easier 2016 survey: a response rate of 34%. In the 2000 diary survey, the response rate was 78% for schools and at 3,394 some 87% of teachers. Although the later series of dairy surveys may have produced lower responses, those in the 1990s seem more robust. Of course, both dairy surveys and other surveys not actually conducted as an activity is taking place, do rely to an extent on perception of time spent on an activity.

The 2016 survey report concluded:

.. some increase in workload has been seen between 2013 and 2016. As per prior workload studies, primary classroom teachers and middle leaders self-reported higher total working hours in the reference week (a mean of 55.5 hours) than teachers in secondary schools (53.5 hours). Primary teachers were also more likely to report total working hours in the reference period of more than 60 hours. As a result, teachers in the primary phase faced more workload pressures.

It is interesting to compare the latest data with those of the 1990 diary studies

WORKING HOURS OF TEACHERS
PRIMARY 1994 1996 2000 2016
HEAD 55.4 55.7 58.9
DEPUTY 52.4 54.5 56.2
SENIOR LEADERS 59.8
MIDDLE LEADERS 57.7
CLASSROOM 48.8 50.8 52.8 55.2
SECONDARY
HEAD 61.1 61.7 60.8
DEPUTY 56.9 56.5 58.6
SENIOR LEADERS 62.1
HEAD DEPT 50.7 53 52.9 55.6
CLASSROOM 48.9 50.3 51.3 52.6
SPECIAL
CLASSROOM 47.5 50 51.2
SOURCES STRB DIARY SURVEYS 1994; 1996; 2000
DfE 2017 WORKLOAD SURVEY

Compared with the 1990s, teaching does seem to be a more onerous occupation, with longer hours spent on work during the reference period. That raises the question as to whether this extra workload is spread across the year of just contained in the spring term. I am sure secondary teachers would insist that greater demands are placed upon them throughout the year now they are fully responsible for the learning of every child and not just every class. They also face demands to be present when exam result at A level and GCSE are released during the summer holidays: probably not a task undertaken by as many teachers twenty years ago.

Primary teachers may have initially benefited from the introduction of PPA time and the designation of certain tasks as ‘not for teachers’ during the discussions over workload in the mid-200s, but whether because of greater assessment pressures, or just larger classes, their working hours seem to have increased by the time of the 2016 survey.

Interestingly, when comparing the 2000 and 2016 studies, primary classroom teachers now spend more time teaching than in 2000. This is despite the introduction of PPA time and accounts for most of the difference in working hours as non-teaching activities have only increased from 32.3 hours to 33.2 hours during the reference weeks; probably within the margin of error.

For secondary teachers the greater increase is in non-teaching hours. This is not surprising, as the pupil-teacher ratio overall in the secondary sector is still generally more favourable than in the late 1990s. The planning, preparation and assessment are probably the areas where more is now demanded of secondary teachers and these tasks cannot be achieved in teaching time.

On the face of these results, teachers are working harder than twenty years ago. If this is generally the case throughout the year, and these doesn’t seem to be anything to make the reference weeks look atypical, then the government will have to consider whether the curious form of employer-drive flexi-time teachers work is now making the job unattractive with regard to both recruiting and, even more importantly, retaining teachers at the classroom level. This is especially true in a period when overall remuneration levels in teaching are probably no longer keeping pace with comparable private sector graduate jobs in all except the least well paid sectors.

Finally, the study should give pay to the canard about long holidays. Indeed, it would be interesting to do a diary study for a so-called holiday period to see on how many days a committed teaching professional actually managed to ignore the demands of the job.

With pressure on funding at the national level, and increasing pupil numbers, this report on workload is not good news for the government. It is also one what they cannot ignore.