There Is a Magic Bullet: how to reduce teacher workload in one fell swoop

Teaching is a tough job, with a tough workload. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t going to become easy either. But it can and should be manageable. Sadly in too many schools workload can become excessive, and can do so without improving teaching. But there is one policy that would reduce teacher workload and improve lessons in English schools:

Abolish the Quality of Teaching judgment in Ofsted inspections.

We should do this because:

It incentivises bad leadership
It is easier to tick QoT tick boxes than it is to actually improve results. It is easier to produce an evidence trail than it is to produce an impact. And it is easier to force teachers to work ever harder than it is to make their effort more productive. School leaders who face a grilling from external inspectors, be they Ofsted or otherwise, will find it much easier to create an illusion of performance and score well on QoT than to create actual performance and score well on Achievement.

So why not insist that all staff plan all lessons in detail and in writing on a school proforma? It might not improve learning, but it’s good way to demonstrate QoT. Why not make all staff mark all books every night in four different colours of pen? It might not improve feedback, but it’s a good way to demonstrate QoT. And before you know it, terrified leaders in many schools are imposing dreadful policies on their staff; because it’s easier to put on a show for an inspector than it is to improve results.

It makes teachers teach worse lessons
QoT judges teaching by how it looks, not by what it achieves. This makes teachers ensure teaching looks better, even if that doesn’t make it achieve more. So teachers spend their time on appearances. They buy books on 100 ways to make their lesson look outstanding, and trade chinese whispers about what Ofsted want to see. The time they would spend increasing the impact of their teaching they spend implementing new fads; not because they work, but because they look good.

It harms the quality of teaching – and causes excessive workload
The QoT grade doesn’t improve impact, just appearances. But even if some of this pressure does rub off on impact, that impact doesn’t come for free. There is a huge opportunity cost to everything that a teacher does. If they’re spending their time on appearances then they’re not spending their time improving learning. And that matters. It matters because teachers can’t work infinite hours, and so something has to give. When that something was improving the actual quality of teaching, not the illusory QoT, it’s children who lose out.

So instead we should lose the QoT grade. Judge schools on the impact they have, not on how they look. Then we can lose the smoke and mirrors policies that look good but make real improvement harder. Leaders and teachers will have one aim – to improve the impact they have on children. And there will be no perverse incentive to distract them from it.

2 thoughts on “There Is a Magic Bullet: how to reduce teacher workload in one fell swoop

  1. bt0558

    Interesting post.

    There are fewer GPs than we would like, there are fewer nurses than we would like, there are fewer armed service personnel than we would like. We can no longer punch at our weight on the global military stage, people are suffering sometimes ill health with fatal consequences. You can’t provide a “private level service” with “public level funding”. The state education system is in crisis. While it is easy to point the finger at Ofsted or nasty progressives or nutty traditionalists this does not address the root cause of the issue.

    A simple look at operations management will show that when you under resource the delivery of a service, the quality of service delivered will fall quite rapidly. As it is with education. There is no mystery surrounding the quality of delivery in the private sector. We all know that the idea that the private sector has better teachers who can be loaned to the public sector to improve things is a little daft. The vast majority of state school teachers are excellent teachers, they are just unable to deliver an excellent quality of service.

    As Prof Michael Porter explained quite well, an organisation that tries to be both lowest cost and at the same time delivery outstanding quality will likely get “stuck in the middle”. As it is is with education I would suggest.

    Ofsted is merely a symptom of the problem. Ofsted is merely a poor attempt to manage and enforce quality into an under resourced system. Attempting to squeeze the last few percentage points of efficiency is expensive, as private education (with a little help from charitable status) will testify.

    The factory style mass production model, with exceptions managed by SEN and G&T has to be standardised and Ofsted manages standardisation quite well. Ofsted are the lambasted for doing what they are tasked to do.

    If you could provide a private education at a price that taxpayers are willing to pay then likely it would be done. But it can’t.

    For me the rest is just egos, showboating, incompetence and expediency.

    Teachers are mostly doing the work that needs to be done, we can argue all day about how they should do the work precisely.

    There needs to be a few more teachers, it’s not rocket science.


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