I started my teaching career in the late 1980’s and remember the first time I was introduced to my new school colleagues at a “Baker day,” the predecessor to today’s “Inset day.” I recall the content of the day focused on teaching and how to improve teaching, rather than paperwork, policies and procedures.
Teaching was very different in those days. We didn’t have strategies, performance tables, targets or benchmarking to contend with. Teachers were expected to make their own professional judgements on how to engage and enthuse pupils to learn. The way I chose to teach involved my pupils embracing outdoor activities as much as possible. We often played sports, visited local villages, walked along canals and swam in waterfalls. These were the hooks I used for cross-curricular teaching; helping pupils to learn whilst making lifelong memories.
When we asked teachers in a recent poll what inspired them get into teaching, the answers proved just how passionate people in the profession are: “I became a teacher because…”
- Working with children is amazing
- I know that every day I will be making an impact on a child's life
- There is never a dull moment
- Children are the future
- Watching children have that “lightbulb” moment makes everything worthwhile
- I like being creative
- I want to have fun
- I want to share a passion I have for a particular subject
- I want to improve the quality of education
- I want to give something back to the community
Newly qualified teachers 'bounce' into schools like 'Tigger' in the Winnie the Pooh stories - a whirlwind of positivity and enthusiasm.
Why is there a recruitment issue?
Teaching is becoming a supply and demand model. Whilst there is a high demand for teachers, teaching is becoming a less popular career, as the latest University figures reveal. There just doesn't seem to be enough teachers to fill the vacancies. Primary schools are struggling to recruit and are re-advertising top roles at more than double the rate of secondary schools according to figures from TeachVac.
It is not just recruitment that is the issue, but also retaining the good teachers. Teachers are able to choose to work at schools where they feel valued, but also where they are able to cope with the demands of the school. Many who find they are unable to cope, just leave. As do quality, high performing teachers. It is not about the money; it is about well-being and the work life balance.
What are the main issues?
There are plenty of good teachers out there, but leaders need to understand how to tackle the recruitment and retention issues head on in their school. The issue has been acknowledged by Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector of Ofsted:
Tackling teacher workload
As highlighted above, the main recruitment and retention issue is workload and its impact on the well-being of teachers. The happier they are, the more positive they tend to feel and the more energy they can bring to their teaching. Workload can lead to illness and burnout; impacting on absence and subsequently a school's budget. It is not about piling more work onto staff and giving them 'more plates to spin,' it is about seeing what unnecessary tasks you can take away. Leaders should be asking teachers to only complete work that positively impacts on the learning of the pupils; stripping everything else back to basics.
Workload and feedback
Marking is a form of feedback. There are many forms of feedback, including verbal. All types of feedback can positively impact on learning when used appropriately. Teachers don't need to produce complicated or detailed, multi-coloured written feedback for every piece of work to show its impact.
- 'The quantity of feedback should not be confused with the quality'
- 'All marking should be meaningful, manageable and motivating'
Ofsted does not expect:
- To see a particular frequency or quantity of work in the books or folders of pupils
- To see any specific marking and feedback
- To see any written record of oral feedback
The screenshot below show's how the InfoMentor solution allows teachers to assess pupils in the classroom, at the point of learning using their school's chosen mark scheme.
Workload and planning
No one can ever deny the importance of planning as it is critical and underpins effective teaching. Planning however needs to be 'fit for purpose'.
- Creating detailed written plans can become a ‘box-ticking’ exercise and create unnecessary workload
- Schools should spend time planning collaboratively
- There should be greater flexibility to accommodate different subject lesson planning formats
Ofsted does not expect:
- Schools to provide individual lesson plans
- Planning to be set out in a specific way
Workload and data
The final workload issue is the continual collection of data. Many schools have an obsession for continually collecting summative data in a variety of formats. Progress is over time, so time needs to be given to show progress. Progress can be shown through appropriate data, but also through the work of the pupils.
- Be streamlined and eliminate duplication –‘collect once, use many times’
- Be ruthless: only collect what is needed to support outcomes for the children
- The amount of data collected should be proportionate to its usefulness
Ofsted does not expect:
- Schools to provide extra evidence other than in the School’s Inspection Handbook
- Data to be presented in a particular format
- Schools to predict their progress scores
The screenshot below shows the InfoMentor reporting tool and how leaders can drill down into the data to make comparisons and identify any gaps in learning.
School leaders need to think long term about addressing teacher recruitment and retention. If leaders only focus on the short term it will be like putting a plaster on a large wound. Leaders need to think about standards, ensuring that their school has a good reputation, not only for pupils but also for the teachers. Ofsted have recognised this, which is why they have started to include workload questions in the teacher questionnaire.
Questions for leaders to ask themselves:
- Be aware of workload issues; consider how long tasks will take and if that time could be better spent on other tasks
- Be prepared to stop and change; don't assume that everything has to continue the way it always has
Looking after your current staff will not only help you to hang on to the best teachers, but will help you to recruit more of them. If your team is happy, then this will be clear to potential new staff members as soon as they walk into the staffroom. If you are in the process of mapping out a new curriculum, then make the plan and timeline for this as transparent as possible, and ensure you have the best tools in place to make it happen.
You can read more from me regarding my views and opinions on education right here on the InfoMentor blog. You can also find out more about InfoMentor - a teaching and learning resource that has been specifically designed to make life easier for schools by tackling workload for the modern teacher. You can download white papers, view case studies and request a demo.