The War on Teacher Workload
In a move to address the escalating concerns over teacher workload and recruitment challenges, the Department for Education (DfE) has unveiled a new “task force” aimed at reducing teachers’ working hours by a substantial five hours per week. This initiative, scheduled to unfold over a three-year period, underscores the government’s commitment to enhancing the working conditions and well-being of educators across the United Kingdom.
The DfE’s decision to form this task force comes in response to growing calls from educational experts and stakeholders who have urged the government to revisit its strategy considering the worsening teacher recruitment and retention situation, magnified by the enduring impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Refreshing the 2019 Recruitment and Retention Strategy
One of the key elements of this announcement is the DfE’s commitment to refreshing its 2019 recruitment and retention strategy. This strategy, originally published under former Education Secretary Damian Hinds, was designed to provide greater support to early-career teachers and simplify the process of becoming an educator.
However, as the crisis in teacher recruitment deepens, the government recognises the need for a more comprehensive approach. Recent analysis reveals that the government is on track to recruit only 52% of the required secondary postgraduate trainees by 2023-24. These statistics underscore the urgency of the situation and the necessity of revising existing strategies.
The Three-Year Ambition for Workload Reduction
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan first announced the formation of a workload reduction task force back in July, coinciding with the announcement of a teacher pay award. The objective of this task force is to work collaboratively with trust and school leaders to explore ways to alleviate the workload burden on teachers and leaders.
Initially, the DfE aimed to reduce teachers’ working hours by five hours per week. Now, the government has solidified this commitment, pledging to achieve this reduction over a three-year period, with the support of the newly established workload task force. This move comes in response to a Tes survey conducted earlier this year, which found that a staggering 68% of school staff believed their workload was unmanageable.
Meet the Members of the Workload Reduction Task Force
The composition of the workload reduction task force is noteworthy, as it includes representatives from various unions, teachers, and sector leaders. This diverse group will convene for their first meeting later this week, with the aim of developing strategies to reduce the excessive workload on teachers. Their input and collaboration will be instrumental in devising effective solutions.
Flexible Working Initiative
In addition to the formation of the task force, the DfE is taking proactive steps to promote flexible working in schools. The department will soon launch a “toolkit” with resources designed to help schools implement practices such as job sharing, part-time employment, and ad-hoc flexibility, such as personal days off. This toolkit is poised to provide much-needed support for educators seeking a more balanced work-life dynamic.
However, experts have noted that flexible working in the teaching profession has not advanced as rapidly as needed. The DfE has also announced the appointment of five new flexible-working ambassador multi-academy trusts and schools, building on the seven that were appointed earlier in the year. These institutions will play a pivotal role in championing flexible work arrangements within the education sector.
Reactions and Expectations
The educational community has offered mixed reactions to the government’s announcement. Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), emphasized the importance of tangible outcomes from the workload task force, highlighting the necessity of change that significantly impacts educators’ daily lives.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), expressed cautious optimism about their representation on the task force but raised concerns about the government’s commitment to implementing systemic changes. Barton underscored the urgency of addressing the unsustainable churn of teachers and leaders, which poses a direct threat to education standards and provision.
The DfE has called upon school senior leadership teams to actively participate in and inform the recommendations generated by the task force. This collaborative approach signifies a concerted effort to gather insights from those directly affected by the challenges of teacher workload.
It is easy to be cynical, so I am going to try and avoid this trap. The unveiling of the workload reduction task force and the commitment to refreshing the 2019 recruitment and retention strategy represent small steps toward addressing the mounting challenges faced by educators in the UK. While the road ahead may be fraught with challenges, this approach signals a renewed dedication to the well-being of teachers and the quality of education in the country. As the task force begins its work and the new strategies take shape, the educational community will be watching closely, hopeful for meaningful and lasting change.