Workload and resources

My timeline yesterday was full of outrage following the publication of this TES article, with the clickbait headline ‘The solution to the workload crisis? Stop teachers designing their own lessons’ which was prompted by the publication of this report by the Policy Exchange. As always with these things, the actual report is a lot more nuanced than the media story about it.

For a measured and informative analysis of this issue, Clare Sealy’s blog is a must read, and I don’t propose to tread the same ground in this piece. What I’m aiming to do here is simply share a couple of observations I’ve made, where I have found myself in sympathy both with the supporters and detractors of this report.

Firstly, I do think it’s mad that teachers are spending their hard earned money buying resources off TES which are, I’m told, of variable quality. That in itself is symptom of a need, which should be met either through the provision of more good textbooks or through the sharing of resources (such as booklets) both within and across different schools. This is a problem particularly for inexperienced teachers, who may not have taught these particular topics before and therefore do not have a reserve of planned resources in their metaphorical cupboard. I do think it is mean spirited to expect them to design a whole raft of lessons from scratch while at the same time holding a full teaching timetable, which is what is happening in some schools.

However, I do also have sympathy with teachers not wanting to teach lessons designed by others, as this does take away their sense of agency. For example, I’m not quite on board with Doug Lemov’s suggestion that new teachers should only teach lessons planned by other experienced professionals and focus more on the pedagogy. We are not actors, reading and interpreting someone else’s script. So for me, the important thing is that there shouldn’t be compulsion to teach ready-made lessons, but they should be there for back up, or for personalisation by the individual teacher.

I have heard talk of giving teachers more PPA time to get on with their lesson planning, and while this does sound like a good idea, I would sound a note of caution. Having read this wonderful article by Becky Allen, I would be wary of the unintended consequences of giving teachers more PPA and the danger that this would be used by school leaders to give them more work to do in that time. This excerpt from the article explains the problem:

Fundamentally, teacher workload and retention comes down to good school leadership. I do think Katharine Birbalsingh’s (head of Michaela school) assertion that her main job is to take care of her teachers (who then in turn will take care of the pupils) has some merit. The ‘putting children first’ and doing whatever it takes for them inevitably has negative consequences for teacher wellbeing. If we agree that the most important resource in a school is its teachers, then it makes sense to ensure they are well supported and allowed to get on with their job: teaching. With this in mind, the provision of high quality and well planned teaching resources should be seen, not as a stick to beat teachers with or a force for their de-professionalisation, but as a form of extra support.

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  1. F J Murphy

    The resources should be there if you want them, and, by and large, I don’t like any scripted lesson: starter, main, plenary etc. etc. With experience, you should stop needing crutches, and I think anyone who can’t, after a few years, walk in and teach with a few minutes’ notice, is not up to the job (apart from getting physical resources ready, of course), but each to his own.

    1. historylover

      Yes, it’s less of an issue for the experienced teacher. But also, there’s many teachers having to teach outside their subject, particularly in humanities where a history teacher might be called upon to teach geography, social studies or RE. In such cases, ready-made resources might be very helpful.

  2. Ian

    “… Doug Lemov’s suggestion that new teachers should only teach lessons planned by other experienced professionals and focus more on the pedagogy.”

    Is this how we are supposed to ‘Teach Like a Champion’, Doug?

    I would have lasted about two months as a teacher if I’d been made to teach a lesson sequence designed by my senior colleagues. The kids would have hated it. For one thing, in my first year as a (mature-age) teacher, I could be quite sure that I’d read more history than most of my colleagues. And a great deal of this problem is caused by teachers not having enough time to learn and to plan.

    Your diagnosis about school leadership and trust is spot on.

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