We have always understood that our consistently outstanding outcomes are the result of our outstanding teachers and teaching assistants. Happy children are good learners and the quickest way to ensure children are happy at school is to make sure staff are inspirational, aspirational and enjoy coming to work.
A key element to this is the culture we create around teacher workload. It is essential that teachers never feel that their workload is overwhelming. In addition, they must know that everything they do directly improves outcomes for children – there is no futile task in their workload.
Our staff absence runs at about 1% and staff turnover is very low (both of these factors reduce workload for the SLT) because we ensure that our teachers manage their work-life balance effectively. The ethos of our school is founded on compassion, aspiration, courage and joy.
But, what do our teachers experience in their classrooms?
Quite simply, we treat our teachers like professionals. We do not micromanage.
We give our teachers responsibility for their pupils’ progress and attainment. They are free to plan, teach and assess however they please. We have no planning policy, no marking policy and no policy on pedagogy.
Every teacher is expected to reach the highest possible standards with every child in their class by using whichever approach works best for them, and their pupils. Pupils are taught so that they are supported in their learning or stretched, depending on their needs.
How do we ensure that this happens?
We share the data that is used to judge our school with all staff. We all want to continue to be in the top 10% of the country. We know this means that, in Year 2 and year 6, children must be achieving at a certain level and every child in every other class must be on track to reach that “top 10%” target as well. Our teachers have challenging but realistic targets.
Teachers can plan however they like. Some plan in detail, others do a broad overview at the start of the term and nothing else is formally written down. We never check planning and we very rarely do formal lesson observations.
The SLT pop in and out of classrooms each day, spending a few minutes in each classroom on a random basis, chatting to children, hearing them read or asking them about their work and targets. In this way we concentrate on the outcomes of the teaching rather than ‘inspecting’ the teaching itself.
Teachers are enormously reflective and aspirational and they know exactly what went well and what they need to do to make things even better.
The SLT creates the structures for them to be able to do this, and offers a listening ear if it is required. Again, we leave this up to the teacher to decide if they want to ask for advice. They know that they are accountable for the achievement of the children in their class, so they take responsibility for improving their teaching and learning.
This means that teachers will focus on tasks that have a proportional impact on pupil progress and not on unnecessary or inefficient tasks. We have a culture of openness – no one is perfect, we are all striving to get better and better at our jobs.
We never expect teachers to mark everything. If the teacher has given formative feedback to a child, that book need not be marked. No book should be marked by the teacher unless there is a good educational reason to mark it.
Children check and edit their own work whenever possible; as this is a key part of the teaching process. Teachers talk to children about their progress and understanding as they are working – feedback is instant and useful, helping children to know how they can improve.
Each child knows their targets and the teacher knows each child’s targets. There is no need to write it all down every day.
We never ask teachers to complete vast spreadsheets for data collection. Three times a year, teachers fill in a spreadsheet telling us whether children are at, above or below the expected standard in reading, writing and maths. That’s all.
Completing the spreadsheet takes about an hour each time. The results entered into the spreadsheet are based on teacher’s professional judgement. They use some formal assessments to support their judgement but ultimately, their knowledge of the child and the curriculum gives the most accurate assessment of the child’s achievement.
All of the approaches above ease the workload for both teachers and SLT. We keep paperwork to an absolute minimum. If it is not helping pupils’ progress, we do not do it.
What do our teachers think?
Research shows that people are motivated by having responsibility, recognition for their work, the work itself, and the chance to achieve, whereas too much supervision and rigid policy are demotivating.
For example, the seminal work on two-factor theory by Herzberg is still influential. We have found this to be precisely true in our school. Our teachers work very hard, but they have control over their workload. Almost everything they do, they choose to do.
Of course, for teachers coming from a much more restrictive culture, this accountability model is daunting at first but they quickly grow into the new culture. The comments they make include:
“I have discovered how to love teaching again, how to be creative and aspirational again.”
“We take responsibility for our own children – if it goes wrong, there is no one else to blame. That’s why we make sure nothing goes wrong.”
We continue to review teacher workload regularly – and often find elements of practice that could be changed or removed as the education landscape changes.
If something new is added to teacher workload, something else must be eliminated and it is essential that we monitor this.
The changes to the Ofsted inspection regime have been a breath of fresh air, allowing a culture such as ours to be encouraged and developed.
See Herzberg, Frederick; Mausner, Bernard; Synderman, Barbara B. (1959). The Motivation to Work (2nd ed.) New York: John Wiley. ISBN 0471373893].