Giving valuable time back to teachers
Every education professional knows that teachers’ working hours during term time are long and often unsustainable, leading to issues with stress, burn-out, performance, staff retention and recruitment.
But what can school leaders do about this and how can they work smarter? They are often tightly constrained by the demands of school life, the National Curriculum and shrinking budgets. What’s more, as the government has set out plans to establish a minimum expectation for the length of the school week, reducing the amount of teaching hours is not even an option.
Identifying the most stressful tasks
John Jerrim, Professor of Education and Social Statistics at UCL’s Institute of Education, has conducted research into the causes and effects of teachers’ long working hours and believes that one option is to help staff work ‘smarter’.
One way of doing this, he says, is to acknowledge the intensity of term-time workloads and understand what kinds of tasks are causing the biggest issues.
John’s research, conducted across five English-speaking OECD countries, including England, has shown that there is a strong link between the type of work teachers have to undertake and teachers’ wellbeing.
“One of the unique features about teachers’ working hours is that you often have to do the work you dislike the most at the worst times, such as in the early morning, late at night, evenings and weekends,” he says.
“That’s generally the tasks that aren’t actually teaching. And the two things that really seem to matter, are marking and lesson preparation. Each extra hour teachers spend doing these tasks is particularly strongly associated with declines in their wellbeing.
“These are tasks that often invade teachers’ personal time and affect their work-life balance, so anything that can be done to lessen the impact of those kinds of tasks is going to be absolutely critical.”
However, he adds: “Rather than being detrimental, extra time spent on team working and professional development may have some benefits for teacher wellbeing.”
Trying new ideas to work smarter
John advocates ensuring teachers are well rested from the kinds of out-of-hours tasks that cause problems. “However, it’s difficult,” he acknowledges, “as this is the kind of profession where you’re always going to be thinking you can do more. But it’s really important, because of the intensity of the working hours, that people do give themselves a break. Half terms are a key example – they’re there for a reason.”
He also believes heads should be open to trying new ideas to help minimise the impact of long hours. “It’s always worth experimenting, looking at what you can do to support change without losing too many of the good things you know your staff are doing.”
Technology can have a key role to play here, he says, and automation in the areas of marking and feedback are useful areas to explore. “I’m not suggesting that should be the complete solution,” he says, “but if it can help lessen the burden somewhat, it seems like a smart way to go about things.”
Dominick Gray, Headteacher at The Beacon Centre in South Shields, agrees with John about the key role of technology.
“If there’s an IT solution to a problem, then I love it,” he says. “I’ve found solutions for some of the key areas in our school, such as recording safeguarding and behaviour – and we’re using ReflectiveTeacher for monitoring the quality of teaching and learning through lesson observations, student work reviews and staff performance development reviews.”
One of the many reasons why he is finding success with ReflectiveTeacher is that it helps to cut down on assessment time and analysis. “My heads of curriculum were spending hours and hours analysing data and number crunching, but now they can do it in a few moments and easily share it with other people such as governors, the local Authority and Ofsted,” he says.
Flexible working in teaching
He also sees an important role of technology in helping to support more flexible working practices – which can also contribute to reducing working hours.
“Since Covid, we now have a realisation that not all meetings have to be done in school, thanks to the use of technology,” he says. “So, for example, that allows a colleague to pick up their child after school and join a team meeting later on at, say, 5pm.”
And the overall effect of this, alongside giving his teachers some time back, has been positive, says Dominick. As well as being beneficial for their wellbeing, it means their relationship with pupils improves – something especially important in his school as it’s a pupil referral unit.
Furthermore, teachers having extra time has had a positive effect on employee engagement. “The staff are happier,” he says. “They’re wanting to stay longer in school, they’re willing to do extra clubs, help each other out – and to socialise more! It just makes it a more pleasant place to work.”
How can ReflectiveTeacher help you to work smarter?
To find out how ReflectiveTeacher can help to give your staff some time back – and deliver multiple other benefits for your school – get in touch with us now.