Teacher workload has been a problem for years, contributing to stress and playing a role in driving people out of the profession. The pandemic has changed some workload patterns – at times even reducing it – but it’s still unclear whether any of these changes will become permanent.
So why is workload such a hot topic? It doesn’t just affect teachers – research published by the Department for Education in June 2020 showed that reducing teacher workload also improved educational outcomes for pupils. A consistently high workload is associated with poorer wellbeing, which we know has an impact on pupils as well as staff. Teacher workload is a high-profile problem, yet it’s still an issue for many schools. While governors can’t get involved with the operational side of reducing workload, there are things they can support with.
Staff are a school’s most important resource – and retention has long been an issue in the teaching profession. Teaching is a challenging job and the demands of the role alone, without taking workload into consideration, can take a toll on wellbeing.
What can governors do to ease staff workload?
Don’t create unnecessary work
A good place to start is by ensuring that the board isn’t asking for anything unnecessary prior to meetings, and that where possible, documents and data aren’t made just for the governors. These should be relevant for staff and the leadership team too.
Refer to staff surveys
Governors don’t have regular contact with teaching staff in the way they do with the head and senior leadership team. As a result, they may not hear directly how workload varies among teachers and whether it’s too high. Staff governors on the board however can also provide perspective that’s not filtered through the SLT and are a valuable resource for this sort of insight.
The board can refer to staff surveys to get a picture of workload across the teaching staff. Be aware of how regularly you’re asking staff to take part in surveys – while useful, they shouldn’t be creating unnecessary work. Be clear about why and how often surveys should be carried out.
By using surveys effectively, governors can look for any patterns to do with a high workload and then ask questions to address what is being done to support staff in this position.
Ask questions about workload
Governors can support the head and senior leadership team with ideas about how to reduce workload. Many schools now give verbal feedback in the classroom rather than traditional out-of-class written marking. Michael Egglestone, a headteacher in south London, oversaw his school move away from distant marking and focus on live marking. They tested asking children to self-assess to see the effect on workload and on children’s progress – and it made a big difference to teachers’ workloads and wellbeing with no negative impact on children’s learning. Read more about live marking.
Use your link governor for wellbeing
Link governors for wellbeing can help monitor workload as part of their role, with the understanding that it’s closely linked to wellbeing. It’s important to note that a high workload for one individual could be perfectly attainable for another. Governors should be conscious that managing expectations and building capacity should go alongside supporting staff in managing their workload. Asking questions about workload shows the board’s commitment to staff wellbeing, which when taken seriously, can play a large role in supporting retention.
More resources on reducing workload for teachers:
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