Is it your school that’s causing workload problems? (2)

In the 1st article on this particular subject I raised the following points for consideration:

  • The National Curriculum (despite many flaws) is a straightforward document which outlines what is required to be taught and to which age group
  • The assessment and record keeping of pupil progress is now left to schools to organise
  • National SAT’s testing now presents a pass / fail result at both KS1 and KS2
  • The Onus has now been firmly placed on schools to organise deliver and monitor all aspects of every pupils education in their school.

In considering the above,  the link between how a school was organising its approach to the curriculum delivery and monitoring process and staff workload was becoming apparent.

Back to basics:

Lets go back to basics and look at just what is expected of schools.

  • Schools need to guarantee the delivery of the whole National Curriculum
  • This should be presented in a balanced format with a greater emphasis and time given to the core subjects but appropriate time being allocated across the foundation subjects.
  • This presents itself as a broad and balanced curriculum for all the schools pupils.
  • Teacher planning should take into account the varying abilities, strengths / weaknesses of pupils across the range of subjects
  • Pupil achievement and progress should be monitored and tracked in the classroom and across the school
  • Support mechanisms should be put into place for those pupils requiring extra assistance.

As a broad overview that pretty much covers things! (oh if it were only that simple ! haha)

So if the above gives us the bare bones of what we do, can we identify just where in this process the overload of work is occurring and what is causing it?

Well guaranteeing coverage and balance in the NC is a basic element and all schools must ensure this – so it really doesn’t affect workload for staff.

Curriculum planning should be a pretty straightforward task – broken down into long / medium and short term elements. It shouldn’t be affected by whichever method your school uses either hand written formats or computerised systems. However I have to comment that I personally prefer the hand written over the computerised as computerised draw all sorts of elements into one place – linking long  term planning to curriculum statements – incorporating medium term objectives and then locking teachers into short term planning formats and timetables. All this before then pulling things into an assessment system that requires usually manual input of data before spewing out analysis on any elements you wish.

Tongue in cheekattainment in Maths  of left handed girls who can stand on their head with one eye shut !

I honestly think – and this is a personal view; that the ability of computerised systems to handle data has the potential to cause overload. Yes they can provide complete planning and assessment systems in one place but HT and SLT should carefully consider which elements of the system are really necessary and productive and which elements are simply add on’s and should be ignored

Aside from computerised systems there really should be no overload from the planning system – the exception being, in some schools, the schools requirements for short term (personal planning). Short term planning notes should be simply that – everything that you, as a teacher, need to successfully deliver a lesson to your class. They are personal notes and of course will vary from teacher to teacher.  At this stage and in some schools there can be extra requirements. It may be that staff are asked to complete a set format for every lesson; sometimes these formats have to be typed and there may also be a requirement for a weekly overview plan to be submitted to the SLT.

All of these are unnecessary and little by little start to increase staff workload.

Assesment and tracking:

Let’s be honest – this is the area that is really causing confusion and cranking up the workload. Firstly there are the problems caused to schools by the removal of the previous assessment grading systems. That has completely thrown many HT’s and SLT’s who are having a hard time getting their heads around just what to do. In this situation many are simply casting around to copy something someone else is doing without actually sitting down and thinking through exactly what is needed for their school – what is effective – what sort of process tells us what we need to know. By blindly copying something that is being used elsewhere shows a lack of knowledge and understanding of the process as a whole and without that depth of  understanding you cannot be either effective or efficient.

So what are the basic elements that should be incorporated:

  • What part of the curriculum is being taught.
  • How have all pupils achieved in that element?
  • What support is to be given for pupils who’s attainment is low

The 2 basic aspects of assessment being formative and summative (basically ongoing / marking and testing)

Lets consider marking

“It’s not required for there to be this dialogue on paper in different-coloured pens, this to and fro between the child and the teacher.”

“It was never a requirement by the government, never a requirement of Ofsted, and so we have to send out the message that it is not required.

The above comes directly from the DFE – how much clearer do some HT’s and SLT’s need it….why are you still insisting that this is done?

Even worse is the insistence that “in-depth” marking should happen across all written work – totally ridiculous!

Marking should be done on the Learning objective – that is what the lesson is about. If you want to point out one or 2 glaring spellings or some other extra then ok but the focus should be the Learning objective. And a grade (out of 10) should be given.

Take a look at this article for a very simple system using a mark book

The easiest and simplest Assessment System to have – a mark book.

Let me give you a true example of this sort of thing in practice: The school is part of an Academy group in Essex. In depth marking  (coloured pens) is required on all pieces of written work irrespective of the subject. Teachers have to have a “conversation” with every child with the children replying in blue ink. This practice is across all the schools in the group. The planning system is equally onerous. Two weeks before Christmas 2016 staff were told to conduct 5 tests for their class and the tests all had to be marked and graded. In the last week before Christmas all staff were told to complete a question analysis of every child on every test! The staff as a unit refused point blank…can you blame them? The analysis was put back into the next term.

Across the Academy group the schools concerned are haemorrhaging staff – replacements are hard to recruit and often are foreign students who are travelling. Leaving staff are taking up either full time posts elsewhere or going on supply rather than stay!

Summative Assessments (testing)

Summative assessments usually happen termly in schools but can also occur 1/2 termly in some schools. They give a snapshot of how pupils are doing in a particular subject. The results from these can also be scaled and so progress tracked. I am also an advocate of  short end of unit tests. Analysis of test results and questions provides information on areas that may be needed for pupil intervention and support. All this of course takes time and are extra termly / 1/2 termly additions, but really staff know and recognise that they need to occur and that for a short period there will be a necessary extra workload. This does take longer if done manually but it seems most computerised systems require a manual data input also before they can data crunch.

Personally I think that termly testing is sufficient and that coupled with the short end of unit tests provides all the data necessary for effective analysis without overload for staff.


The measure of how a pupil is attaining on a long term basis….tracking is an ongoing process that consistently measure and follows pupil achievement in order to inform planning  and should be summarised on a scaled points system as used in the SAT’s tests. Whilst I am a great believer in using a mark book to track ongoing achievement there are several approaches to this that can increase staff workload substantially.

  • Calculating and reporting back on % statement coverage.
  • Having printed sheets of curriculum statements for subjects and highlighting in different colours which term these were attained and also dated.
  • The use of “I can” statement sheets.

All the above are unnecessary and add to staff workload – the schools systems in conjunction with subject coordinators should ensure curriculum coverage and any return to tick boxes and multi coloured highlighting takes assessment and tracking back 20 years…it wasn’t any good then and it isn’t now!

Ok back to what we were talking about. If HT’s and SLT’s sit down and consider what is really necessary and what is required to inform the school and benefit the pupils then I am sure they would view things differently. However too many times this is the viewpoint…..

David Anstead, of the Nottingham education improvement board, said “teachers and heads were in fear of a visit from Ofsted and so got sucked into paperwork which was sometimes unnecessary.”

“The main thing I get asked is, ‘What will Ofsted think about this?’

If you know and have worked through your OWN system then it will be more efficient and effective because you have tailored it to what you consider professionally is needed in your school.

If HT’s and SLT’s live in fear of OFSTED and import other peoples systems  – they do not have ownership and in the panic will try to cover every base that they can think of…..result


In conclusion and in answer to the question “Is it your school that’s causing workload problems?”

Unfortunately I have to say the answer is YES. All schools are faced with the same challenges with regard to the curriculum and also its assessment, tracking and reporting – yet we can see vast differences in the way that schools approach this and as a direct result, differences in the effect this has on staff workload.

Concerns with regard to workload have been discussed at all levels and as a profession we have been informed by both OFSTED and the DFE of unnecessary practices that are currently taking place. So why is it that some schools still persist in this sort of inefficient and pointless practice that achieves nothing but low morale and unhappy and ineffective staff.

HT’s and SLT’s need to take ownership of the systems that they are using in order to properly utilise only what is necessary for the effective education of the pupils. By taking control and ownership it dispels any OFSTED fears and allows the school to have a positive and confident outlook in all it does, which is reflected through all staff, children and parents alike.







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