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Tackling Teacher Workload – School Leaders Must Stop Being Complicit

September 22, 2017, 10:49 GMT+1
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  • Mark Wright explains why headteachers should be concerned less with micromanagement and more with ensuring that their staff are adequately supported
Tackling Teacher Workload – School Leaders Must Stop Being Complicit

High-stakes accountability, SATs, performance appraisal and pay, safeguarding and job insecurity have conspired to create huge pressure on managers and leaders, which can in turn undermine the way they treat colleagues.

This is unfortunate, but unsurprising. Research by Lawrence & Kacmar published earlier this year found that professionals experiencing job insecurity become emotionally exhausted, leaving them less likely to focus on the right course of action and more vulnerable to acting unethically.

Good people can find themselves doing bad things. This is the position that managers and leaders in schools across the country may be finding themselves in. It is one of the contributory factors behind teachers’ decisions to leave the profession altogether, because they have simply had enough of malnourished work environments.

Workload in schools has ballooned with the quiet acquiescence of many senior leaders who feel they have little option but to implement the stream of policy reforms coming from government and protect their insecure position by micromanaging their staff.

As one headteacher recently told us, “Ethical leadership is pie in the sky. The fact is, I’m advertising for a deputy head and the job comes with a 100-hour a week workload. That’s just what the job entails, and there is no scope for ethics in this.”

The result of this overloading of staff is that they’re driven beyond their capacity to deliver sustainably, which has a negative impact on their wellbeing.

Teachers are consequently driven out of the profession by unnecessarily high workloads, or have any appetite for moving into management drained out of them.

More school leaders are now recognising that keeping teachers and middle leaders has to be a key priority. Retaining staff means treating them well, with humanity, and encouraging high performance through trust and collaboration, rather than coercion.

In the context of a teacher shortage, micromanagement is simply not sustainable. School leaders who use coercion are undermining the profession when they burn out teachers who go on to leave the profession for good. With 31% of teachers currently leaving within five years of commencing their teaching career, there is significant room for improvement.

Many school leaders have become business leaders, allowing workload to drive teachers from the profession for the sake of short term performance goals. Conversely, the best leaders know that sustainable success comes through cultivating an environment in which teachers feel supported. This in turn creates the ideal conditions for learning and impacts positively on pupil performance.

These leaders will be relentless in their attempts to shield their teachers from as many tasks as possible which are not essential to core teaching and learning. They will keep assessment to a minimum, while still ensuring that pupil performance is on track, leaving teachers with more time to devote to teaching and learning.

As heads, this approach will also reconnect them to teaching and allow them to reclaim the title ‘headteacher’ – a leader of teaching and learning success.

Mark Wright is the director of AMiE – the leadership section of the ATL union representing school leaders and managers.