The education secretary has promised teachers she will tackle unnecessary bureaucracy in schools by establishing working groups on marking, lesson planning and pupil data, following years of complaints from those in the profession.
Nicky Morgan said she would ask the three committees to look at the administrative burden faced by teachers and school leaders, after stirring controversy earlier this week when she suggested teachers could reduce workload simply by not answering emails after 5pm.
“Teachers and leaders [have] told us that much of the work they do every day – such as marking, planning and tracking pupil progress – is essential, but that it’s the volume, duplication, bureaucracy or detail that can prove unnecessary or unproductive,” Morgan told a conference on Wednesday in Leeds, organised by the graduate training charity Teach First.
“So that’s why I’m delighted to announce today that we’ll be setting up new working groups to address the three biggest concerns that teachers raised in the workload challenge: marking, planning and resources, and data management.”
Morgan warned that “there’s only so much that government can do to reduce workload and that the real battle is about changing behaviour, albeit sometimes influenced by us in the Department for Education, on the ground”.
The three working parties – one of which was first announced in February – will look at schools that have developed effective techniques without generating unnecessary workload, and recommend models for other schools to follow.
“I can say that [the working parties] will be made up of frontline professionals who will be able to look at these three key areas and produce real and concrete recommendations for the department, for schools and for heads on how to minimise unnecessary workload,” Morgan said.
In recent years teachers have complained about the adoption of double and triple marking of student work as a means of giving feedback to pupils, encouraged by Ofsted inspectors. Lesson planning is one of the most time-consuming areas of preparation, according to many classroom teachers.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it was a key issue. “The workload challenge can be solved by more intelligent accountability, better planning and fewer changes from government – constant short-notice disruption is not conducive to the focus required for good quality teaching. It can squeeze out professional development, harm recruitment and undermine morale,” Hobby said.
In her speech, Morgan also made a further plea for retired professionals to consider retraining as teachers, as unions and school leaders warn of a recruitment crisis.
“I attracted some criticism recently for suggesting that those at the end of their careers should consider going into teaching. Some sought to caricature this as me forcing octogenarians to lead PE lessons,” Morgan said. “But I stand by that statement, because just as I want dynamic young graduates to bring their energy and wanderlust into the classroom, so too do I want those with years of experience in a range of careers to bring their wealth of knowledge into the classroom as well.
“I want lifelong teachers to have their work complemented by lessons from former civil engineers, stage managers, barristers and meteorologists. I believe that those at the end of their careers have a huge amount to offer our classrooms.”
Morgan also announced a fourth working party to develop standards for teachers’ professional development. The group is to be chaired by David Weston, of the Teacher Development Trust.