Sean Harford, Ofsted National Director for Schools, has been a welcome addition to education. He appears sincere and wants to demystify some of the urban myths that can surround Ofsted inspection. Therefore, I enjoy following his Twitter conversations and have gladly read Ofsted’s reassuring paper on debunking the myths of inspection. However, his recent Tweets and blog, in my opinion, ask the wrong and worrying question:
‘What are SLT going to do about teacher workload?’
I believe this major question needs consideration and action but it is a naïve question that needs amending before it becomes folklore, part of educational expectation, part of the current disorientation that exists in our schools where the goals of education appear to continue to change externally. There are so many major changes that it can be difficult to keep the central focus on what a school’s function is, with A-levels that have become linear examinations, with no supporting text books and often inadequate CPD. GCSEs that are now assessed 9-1 not grades, no coursework, increased content and new specifications. Add in the annual school changes, new staff, new year 7/12 students, flawed feeble funding and you can see that teacher workload is already off the scale and SLT are being required to manage an impossible external situation without many of the essential ‘tools’ to adequately manage the job.
My major concern is that already there is a shift in the educational script. No headteacher I know would bring in so many significant changes at once. The English/maths 9-1 GCSEs have not been reflected on/learnt from and here we are rushing to inflict this on our next cohort with all subjects changing without evaluating success or requirement or, crucially, training needs. A-level has changed inordinately without the back-up ‘tools’ to manage the change – with many companies and MATs making a ‘quick buck’ in trying to provide a script for the changes and not so cheap courses to explain how to interpret the data, the new specifications, the new curricular requirements. The implications are clear, headteachers and schools are expected to manage these changes. The current political rhetoric and sound bites are all about social mobility, life chances fixing society – a politician’s job, a parent’s job, not simply the remit of the teacher, the school whose leaders are struggling to decipher which priority is to be focused upon.
Let’s be clear, these changes were rushed and ill thought out. SLT have no choice but to try to manage this workload but please do not try to re-write the script to imply that this is something that was requested or required. Harford’s question therefore needs a major prefix recognising that the educational world we live in which continues to be going through a time of huge change, requiring a workload that in other industries would be deemed unnecessary, unreasonable and most alarmingly for us as educators, change that has not been given time to work and be reflected upon. Headteachers have been given this poisoned chalice and will endeavour to manage changes to the best of their ability. Then we can get back to the core of our business which is educating, in the broadest sense, our wonderful children. Schools cannot lose this essential message or lose the focus of what we are about in over preparing for Ofsted inspections; an excellent message I wholeheartedly agree with Sean Harford on.
But please also think of those trying to manage the change. Beleaguered, pressurised SLT, desperate heads of department and teachers who are going way beyond what is reasonable or right. They are managing stressed students who are going to have to cope with an increase in exams, an average of eleven more hours, 33 hours of GCSEs compared to 24 this year, more time without the sports hall, creating more pressure, more mental wealth concerns and more mixed messages, with a pay increase that for the eighth year in succession is frankly insulting. But that is another blog, another difficult conversation that I cynically believe will be another (in rugby parlance), ‘hospital pass’, for those who run the schools.