Teacher Workload Reduction: 7 Strategies School Leaders Can Implement Today
It’s no secret that teacher workload is a growing issue within the education system and many are struggling to keep up with the demands of the profession. Heavy workloads resulting in a poor work-life balance are having a detrimental impact on both teachers and school and trust leaders’ well-being. And ultimately they are contributing to the worrying recruitment and retention crisis in teaching.
In this article, we look at the findings from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) workload survey “Understanding current practice around managing teacher workload” and their exploration of teacher workload across England.
And provide you with some practical suggestions to support your teachers and colleagues.
- Why is teacher workload so high to start with?
- The impact of high teacher workload
- What this means for schools
- 7 strategies to improve teacher workload in schools
- What are the barriers to improving teacher workload?
- How does Third Space Learning reduce teacher workload?
Why is teacher workload so high to start with?
It seems the government, who created the need for proof of teaching and learning taking place, are keen to cut unproductive tasks for teachers. Hoping this helps to improve teacher recruitment and retention and promote a healthier work-life balance.
But defining what these unproductive tasks are is unclear.
In a TeacherTapp survey, 5,000 primary teachers shared the cause of their high workload. No single task took the majority but the top 3 answers were:
- Marking (30%)
- Data (20%)
- Display creation (10%)
Additional tasks include adding icons to slides to identify teaching techniques such as partner talk and independent or whole class tasks, adding lesson plans to a central system, completing order forms and filling in online systems.
For SLT, time-consuming tasks appeared to involve audits, exam forms, Ofsted preparation and school improvement plans — resulting in teachers needing to complete these things too.
Each of these necessary tasks impacts not only school staff but students too.
Ultimate Pack Of Maths Intervention Lessons
60+ intervention lessons ready for you to use one to one or in small groups (Year 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)r
The impact of high teacher workload
Naturally, the effects of high teacher workload differ from school to school and role to role as well as person to person.
But the overwhelming consensus is that high teacher workload and long hours across the UK is having a detrimental impact on pupil outcomes.
We all know that high-quality teaching is the number one factor in influencing pupil outcomes, particularly in schools with a high number of disadvantaged students.
With high teacher workloads leading to teachers being overworked and stressed, high-quality teaching becomes an almost impossible standard for teachers to consistently maintain.
What this means for schools
The effects of high teacher workload on student outcomes can be seen both directly and indirectly. Being overworked can cause teacher burnout and make it difficult to support students and maintain high-quality teaching.
Additionally, trying new teaching methods and providing personalised teaching, feedback and marking can become challenging and unmanageable with an overwhelming workload.
As a result, students aren’t receiving the level of support, feedback or personalised learning they require to maximise their progress.
Impact on disadvantaged students
According to the EEF report, teachers in schools across England with high proportions of disadvantaged students often face greater workload challenges.
Alongside long waiting times for support from external agencies, these students often require more individualised learning and feedback which teachers are unable to give due to the increasing demands, tasks and expectations of their workloads.
This extra workload created by a greater need for more differentiation and personalisation but a lack of planning and assessment time for teachers contributes to the persistent attainment gap disadvantaged students face compared to their peers.
High demands on lesson planning, marking, data management, behaviour management, staff meetings and the growing number of additional administrative tasks teachers face are often leading to increased levels of stress, poor work-life balance, poor mental health and teacher burnout.
Unnecessary workloads and pressures to meet growing demands and expectations are proving challenging for teachers to sustain a long and enjoyable teaching profession.
Findings from the EEF reported that teachers with a healthier work-life balance have higher job satisfaction than those with a poor work-life balance. Excessive workloads faced by many are resulting in high numbers of teachers leaving the profession with almost 40,000 leaving in 2022.
A key theme throughout the EEF report was the importance teachers place on school leaders in determining the culture around workload, demonstrating the importance placed on school and multi-academy trust leaders to implement a whole-school approach to reducing workload.
Highlighting mounting pressure on schools from external agencies, the EEF report identified organisations such as the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted as contributing factors to increased teacher workload.
Agencies such as these are requiring teachers to spend more time on admin tasks such as data drops, and excessive marking — many of which have little effect on high-quality teaching or pupil progress.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a clear correlation between schools with multiple workload reduction strategies in place and teacher job satisfaction, workload and manageability.
So what can you do to reduce teacher workload and make a difference to outcomes across your school?
7 strategies to improve teacher workload in schools
1. Reduce marking
Marking is one of the leading contributors to high teacher workload. And while feedback in invaluable to student progress, marking outside of classroom time is not the most effective or efficient method of marking. Instead, many schools are implementing the following:
- Whole class marking (WCM): This approach is becoming more commonly adopted across the UK. Teachers read through students’ work and make notes on what they did well and areas for improvement. This feedback is then shared as a whole class, saving teachers writing comments in each pupil’s book, and students are provided with an opportunity to respond to the feedback.
- Verbal feedback: Verbal feedback reduces workload and provides students with real-time, personal feedback to act on immediately. Not all feedback needs to be written in books.
- Self and peer assessment: Self and peer assessment not only help save teachers’ time but can encourage students to become reflective learners.
2. Create shared schemes of work
Despite contributing to high teacher workload, the EEF found planning to be a priority for teachers. They considered it important to understand lessons thoroughly so they could provide students with high-quality teaching.
Following the advice in the DfE workload toolkit, many schools are introducing collaborative planning for subject departments, or same year group teachers to enable support and liaise when needed.
Schools such as Holte School, Birmingham find the high quality of Third Space Learning resources have helped save time with GCSE preparation.
West Meon CofE Primary School in Hampshire have reduced curriculum planning by sharing resources, using existing, informed schemes of work and joining local and national networks offering support to school teachers and leaders.
Read more: Guide to Choosing Your Primary Maths Scheme of Work
Download for secondary schools: Creating your GCSE Scheme of Work
3. Data management
Who really enjoys exams? Asking students to complete formal assessments multiple times throughout the year can have a negative impact on the mental health of both students and teachers.
Guidance from the DfE advises no more than two or three data collection points per academic year, reducing marking and data entry for teachers.
That said, a high-quality diagnostic assessment enables teachers to clearly assess and address gaps in their students’ knowledge. But considering how this data is collected can reduce teacher workload.
Many data collection systems work collaboratively, and so data only needs to be entered into one of the systems. Systems can also be tailored to suit your school’s needs, providing data analysis, identifying the need for interventions or suggesting next steps.
4. Encourage flexible working
Flexible working has become a prominent feature in many workplaces. While teaching from home is not feasible, the DfE has vowed to help school leaders introduce flexible working where they can to help improve teacher well-being and reduce workload.
In the new workload toolkit published by the DfE, there are plans to help schools introduce practices such as job shares, part-time working and ad-hoc flexibility, and the occasional personal day.
Flexible Working Ambassador Multi-Academy Trusts and Schools (FWAMS) have been introduced as part of this initiative. A further five FWAMS have been announced on top of the previous seven in June this year to help champion flexible working and offer practical advice to school leaders.
However, introducing flexible working practices such as part-time job shares could see the need for more than 40,000 more teachers. This is equivalent to the number leaving the profession and more teachers than are trained in a year.
5. Create a consistent behaviour management system
Not only is it essential to have a consistent behaviour policy to help save teachers and school leaders time but it’s crucial that all staff fully understand the policy and their role in implementing it.
Focusing support at an early stage, before escalation occurs, is beneficial in helping to identify patterns of behaviour and prevent these time-consuming behaviours from occurring frequently.
Considering how behaviour is logged and reported can also help tackle workload. Implementing a simple technology system with minimal text can reduce the time spent on the administrative side of behaviour management.
6. Shorter staff meetings
Teachers already have a lot to do, sitting through long staff meetings detracts from other tasks and can be counterproductive.
While not all staff meetings are avoidable, some might be. It’s worth considering if the meeting is necessary or whether the information could be communicated to staff in another way.
Ensuring an agenda for unavoidable meetings is in place and sticking to the scheduled meeting time can streamline staff meetings and free up more time for teachers to complete other jobs.
7. Make effective use of teaching assistants
Ofsted has found that less successful schools do not make effective use of Teaching Assistants (TAs). All too often, TAs are placed with low-attaining pupils or children with SEN which can be ineffective.
Instead, school teachers and leaders could deploy TAs to help pupils develop independent learning skills, and deliver impactful one-to-one and small group interventions.
Sharing lesson plans with TAs before lessons can benefit students and add value to what teachers do.
Further considerations: ECTs
Early Career Teachers (ECTs) and new teachers were proportionally low in the total number of teachers surveyed by the EEF. For schools with ECTs, school leaders may consider putting extra workload reduction strategies in place.
Read more: Five Things I Knew At The End Of My ECT Years That I Wish I’d Known At The Start
What are the barriers to improving teacher workload?
Despite having multiple strategies in place for improving teacher job satisfaction and workload, evidence from the EEF study suggests that the key to effectiveness appears to be how well schools implement their workload reduction plan.
So what stops these strategies from being carried out effectively?
1. Culture of silence
Many teachers struggle to reach out for help and rather than ask they will just leave, adding to the teacher shortage.
Consider whether your school environment contributes to a culture of speaking up.
Even if you’re promoting a healthy work-life balance, also think about the behaviours of teachers you promote and discourage.
Implementing new strategies and professional development takes time to start with, and may even increase workload temporarily whilst school teachers and leaders adjust to new policies.
According to the workload survey, teachers in secondary schools and MATs were likely to report changes to behaviour policies increasing workloads.
And schools rated ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted were more likely to report an increased workload from changes to marking policies than schools rated ‘outstanding’.
With already high workloads, large class sizes and a lack of available resources, some school leaders may even delay implementing work reduction strategies.
To help overcome these barriers, school leaders can refer to the checklist outlined by the DfE to consider the strategies that need to be implemented and regularly evaluate their impact on teacher workload.
How does Third Space Learning reduce teacher workload?
Over the past decade, we’ve been talking and listening to teachers needs. Now more than ever, there’s a greater need for interventions to help pupils progress. But staff are stretched, particularly TAs with growing numbers of students requiring one to one support for SEN.
That’s why every stage of our onboarding process and weekly tutoring sessions has been streamlined to minimise the impact on you and give you more time to focus on what you do best — teaching.
Schools that use Third Space Learning tell us the time they’ve saved by freeing up time for what they do best — high-quality whole class teaching — while we carry out personalised one to one interventions.
High-impact tutoring to ease workload
In 2013, Third Space Learning was founded to help close the maths attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils by making high-quality one-to-one maths tutoring available to pupils from less advantaged backgrounds.
Here’s how we know that our tutoring reduces your workload:
1. We diagnose your students’ specific gaps before they start their tutoring. You can specify what you want us to teach them but to save you time we will work it out ourselves.
Every student sits an intial diagnostic assessment to identify the learning gaps maths specialist tutors should prioritise.
Each session is followed by Post-Session Questions, assessing knowledge the student has retained from the lesson and the learning that needs more time.
2. We provide the one to one teaching needed to address these specific learning gaps.
Every student works with the same tutor each week, building rapport in a safe learning environment. Learning with the same tutor builds trust and helps to the tutor to identify and address students learning gaps.
3. Up to 20 students can learn simultaneously with their one to one tutor — meaning there’s no individual timetabling issues.
Each student logs in to the Third Space Learning virtual classroom on a computer or iPad. Students share the classroom with their tutor and communicate via audio headsets.
Schools receive free high-quality headsets for each pupil enrolled in one of our one to one tutoring programmes.
4. You receive regular updates and reports to have an overall and individual view of progress and who’s on track or not.
After each session, class teachers receive a report for each of their students on the programme. This data can be used to monitor pupil progress or inform whole-class teaching.
5. No need to check or create the content of any intervention lesson (but you can of course if you want to).
Our curriculum team have created, analysed and revised revision programmes for KS2, KS3 and KS4 based on the maths National Curriculum.
6. Thousands of questions for every age group, hundreds of resources, all included.
Our intervention lessons cover content as far back as KS1 ensuring all learning gaps are addressed, no matter how far back they go.
Questions on the SATs and GCSE revision programme are designed in the style of exam questions to build confidence and familiarise students with exam-style questions.
High-quality resources to save you time
Where possible, the DfE workload toolkit suggests sharing and adapting resources rather than making your own from scratch.
Maths experts and former teachers have created Third Space Learning’s classroom resources with teachers needs in mind.
1. Reduces planning time
Although the EEF report highlights the importance educators place on planning their own lessons, resourcing further adds to an already mounting workload.
To help save teachers time, our maths experts have created a library full of over 4,000 resources for both primary and secondary teachers. Year after year, teachers tell us how arithmetic resources such as Fluent in Five and reasoning resources such as Rapid Reasoning not only save them time due to the quality of the questions and ease of use but also help close the attainment gap and fuel pupils’ enjoyment of maths.
2. Well-thought out questions
Teachers love how accessible and easy to navigate our resources are, cutting down the time spent searching for high-quality maths resources. “easy to find and search by year group quote”
Every resource is well-thought-out and links closely to the National Curriculum — with the primary resources marrying up to the White Rose scheme of work.
Register for the Third Space Maths Hub for thousands of primary resources, or for secondary schools, you can explore the Secondary Resource Library.
3. Adaptable and flexible
Many of the resources on offer are adaptable to suit the needs of your class and can be used as whole-class or individual teaching resources to help boost progress and close the maths attainment gap — while reducing teacher workload!
While teacher workloads can vary, many educators face high demands from planning, marking and feedback, behaviour management, data drops meeting and administrative tasks. A culmination of these job aspects can lead to a high workload.
Workload is different from school to school and role to role. It can be influenced by school policies and the number of responsibilities under each role. Often, teachers are involved in many tasks outside of teaching time, including lesson planning, marking and feedback, data drops, meetings, behaviour management, communication with parents/carers and many other administrative tasks.
Having appropriate policies in place for marking and feedback, planning, data collection, meeting and behaviour management can help to reduce the workload these time-consuming tasks create. Additionally, fostering a collaborative work environment and providing the resources and training needed can help reduce teacher workload
Do you have students who need extra support in maths?
Every week Third Space Learning’s maths specialist tutors support thousands of students across hundreds of schools with weekly online 1-to-1 lessons and maths interventions designed to address learning gaps and boost progress.
Since 2013 we’ve helped over 150,000 primary and secondary students become more confident, able mathematicians. Learn more or request a personalised quote for your school to speak to us about your school’s needs and how we can help.
Subsidised one to one maths tutoring from the UK’s most affordable DfE-approved one to one tutoring provider.