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Ofsted’s commitment to supporting reduced teacher workload

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Sean Harford from OfstedI’m pleased that Ofsted has been involved with the Teacher Workload Review Groups. These led to the three recent reports aimed at reducing workload associated with marking, planning and data management.

Along with two other Ofsted colleagues, I worked on the groups with school leaders, teachers, academics and representatives from unions and professional associations. We found being part of these groups an important opportunity to hear about front line experiences and how Ofsted can play its part in supporting the reduction of teacher workload.

The groups’ recommendations for school leaders, teachers, the DfE and Ofsted rightly try to strike a balance between what is best for pupils and what is still manageable for teachers.  For Ofsted, many of the recommendations reflect our #OfstedMyths campaign.

We’ve been working hard to dispel misconceptions about what inspectors do and don't look at, or ‘expect’, when they visit a school. I’ll say more about that later in this blog.

Data management in schools

In the Data Management Review Group, the members and external parties presented how they collect and use data within their setting. The presentations and discussions generated a lot of ideas and also helped to identify efficient as well as inefficient practice.

When discussing Ofsted, one thing that became clear was the idea of schools trying to ‘gold plate’ what they do on data for inspection purposes. It’s useful that the group’s report recognises what we have said in our #OfstedMyths work by noting that ‘Ofsted does not expect performance and pupil-tracking data to be presented in a particular format.’

Rachel Skentelbery, Ofsted’s Head of Statistical Quality and Planning, who sat on the group, reiterated this quite a lot! Our inspectors are happy for schools to explain the process or system they use to monitor the progress of pupils; but we do not expect it to be presented in any given way.

Reviewing planning and resources

The Planning and Resources Review Group made a distinction between planning for lessons – which was seen as important for effective teaching and learning – and lesson plans, which are sometimes overly prescriptive, short term and take up a disproportionate amount of teacher time to produce. The group saw collaborative planning by teachers as a useful approach to reducing the burden on individuals.

According to my colleague John Malynn, Ofsted’s Principal Officer for Schools, who also contributed to the review, members of the group identified an interesting issue in relation to resources. The group found that schools trust material that is available on the internet, regardless of whether this has been validated for its suitability and quality, but often wouldn’t countenance using recognised textbooks that are widely used with successful outcomes in many other countries. This seems a little odd.

Most of the recommendations from this group’s report are aimed at school leaders and teachers. However, we took note of the key recommendation for government to review the lead-in times for changes, which, of course, can have a huge impact on planning in schools.

Looking at marking policy

I had the pleasure of working mainly with the Marking Policy Review Group. The marking group sensibly started by considering why teachers mark pupils’ work, who the audience is for this, and who benefits. The group had informative presentations about marking and different forms of assessment from a range of other serving practitioners and advisers. The ensuing discussions were energetic and robust, but always professional and helpful in agreeing the principles that the group successfully, I think, translated into the final report.

A common criticism of Ofsted was that we have driven schools’ practice on marking and that this has resulted in greater teacher workload. I understand these criticisms and they are not unfair. Our reports in the past have sometimes made recommendations that could be interpreted in ways that lead to greater workload.

However, I know that our more recent training and guidance to inspectors in this area, coupled with our #OfstedMyths work have been successful in shifting the focus onto the school’s success in ensuring teachers follow its marking and assessment policy.

I also know from social media reaction that some people wanted the group to come up with a concrete solution or way of solving the marking issue; I am not so sure that would have been the right approach. I think schools need to discuss marking in the light of the report and decide what will work within the contexts they operate. The solutions, I am sure, will be many and varied depending on that context.

The point is, it’s up to the school to discuss how staff now take this forward, that they feel comfortable and confident in what they are doing, and that the chosen approach is both effective and manageable! I feel that the group’s final report forms a good basis for those discussions and that useful solutions can be found by schools. The alternative would have been a ‘national marking policy’ and I am sure nobody wanted that.

#Ofstedmyths campaign

As many of you will know, we introduced more proportionate short inspections for good schools and colleges in September 2015. This change was part of our commitment to eliminate unnecessary burdens on providers. As a further part of this campaign, since January 2016, we’ve been promoting our #mythbuster document Ofsted inspection: myths through social media and in conjunction with teaching unions and associations. This short document complements and is included in our detailed School Inspection Handbook.

We also published a series of videos featuring two Ofsted Directors. The short films tackle specific myths around marking and pupil feedback, lesson planning, grading and observation. We are trying to use as many ways as possible to get our message out to teachers and teacher leaders.  In March, we even attempted our first Vine to clarify our position on approaches to marking.

Once you’ve had a look at these materials, I’d really welcome your thoughts on any other aspects of inspection you’d like clarity on and also how we can get our message out to as many of your colleagues as possible.

Reviewing daily practice

I hope the DfE teacher workload reports and our #OfstedMyths campaign encourages school leaders to review and streamline practice in schools where possible. The purpose of everything a school does should be driven by the need to help pupils progress, not to satisfy the imagined requirements of Ofsted. While the government is looking at how it can reduce demands on schools, we at Ofsted will also continue to make sure that our inspectors embed these principles consistently into daily inspection practice.

Updates from Ofsted

You can keep up to date with Ofsted news by signing up for email alerts, reading the Ofsted blog and following Ofsted on Twitter and me on Twitter

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  1. Comment by Scott posted on

    Great information on the Teacher Workload Review Groups. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Comment by Andy posted on

    An excellent read, keep up the good work! I've written a number of articles on the impact of workload and strategies to reduce it, whilst maintaining good outcomes for students.

    You can read my posts here:

  3. Comment by Rebecca posted on

    I am afraid there needs to be mandatory inspection of teacher workload including asking the 'chalk face' teachers of the school beimg inspected. Our school still asks for regular triple marking (mark, response, mark again), moderation during meetings of 'formative' assessment, completion of a spreadsheet for every learner, every lesson, and collection of data at department level prior to preparing for entering data at a whole school level. Please help!

  4. Comment by B posted on

    Totally agree with Rebecca. All this talk does not make much a difference to teachers still in the classroom. Senior leaders need to be made accountable for imposing heavy workloads on their staff to please ofsted. Bottom line is ofsted need to see through the culture if “tick boxes” still prevalent in many schools. This might even help towards teachers retention!