No one connected with education can be in any doubt that excessive teacher workload is a serious problem. In recent years, both Ofsted and the Department for Education have devoted time and resources into investigating the issue. Both have concluded that, if left unchecked, workload can have a seriously damaging effect on teacher wellbeing, morale and retention.
There isn’t much mystery over the causes of excessive teacher workload. According to the government’s own Workload Challenge, 53% of teachers cite the “excessive/depth of marking” and 56% blame “recording, inputting, monitoring and analysing data” as the chief culprits1.
If there is general agreement on the workload problem and its causes, however, there is little sign that it has been effectively addressed. In fact, according to the OECD’s latest international survey this summer, teacher workload in England has actually increased2. In the wake of its findings, Damian Hinds, the former Secretary of State for Education, pledged to do more.
What, then, can be done to reduce teacher workload, and specifically the component of their working lives that teachers say contributes most to it – the recording, inputting, monitoring and analysing of data? To find out, GL Assessment commissioned pollsters YouGov to ask a representative sample of teachers how much time they spent dealing with data, what their attitudes to it were, how they felt their school dealt with assessment and so on3.
Later in this analysis, colleagues at Sir Robert Woodard Academy in West Sussex – at Trust, Principal, Department level – explain what practical steps they have taken and how they have used assessment to actually cut workload. But first, the results of our findings.
800 senior leaders and classroom teachers in secondary and primary schools were polled by YouGov over a three-week period in June and July of 2019. They confirmed that marking and data collation are still seen as the biggest causes of excessive workload.
A third of teachers say tackling data issues would have the biggest impact on their workload, second only to marking (32% vs 38%). In fact, three in ten (30%) said they spend more time recording, analysing and monitoring data than they do preparing for lessons.
Teachers are divided over whether they think their school takes workload seriously as an issue – a third think they do (32%) but slightly more think they don’t (38%).
Three-quarters of teachers (75%) say their schools expect them to co-ordinate and oversee assessments, with little difference between secondary and primary schools. Just over a tenth (12%) say they don’t. And seven in ten teachers (68%) think schools could do more to make assessments less time-consuming for teachers.
That finding isn’t surprising when you consider the time teachers say they spend on assessments. On average our respondents say they spend six hours and 48 minutes testing and assessing students every week. Across a 39-week school year that is the equivalent of more than 265 hours.
Almost seven in ten teachers (68%) are asked to submit assessment data once a term. But a fifth (20%) have to submit data at least once a month and a few (3%) once a week, despite advice from the DfE that schools “should not have more than two or three data collection points a year” 4.
Perhaps even more surprising, given Ofsted’s repeated warnings about schools relying on non-standardised internal assessments, over half of secondary school teachers (54%) and a third of primary school teachers (32%) say their schools write their own progress tracking assessments. Though the fact that almost half of all respondents (48%) admit they find Ofsted’s advice on data and assessment in the new framework confusing could partly explain their prevalence.
Nevertheless, despite the demands over-assessment and bad data practices make on their time, teachers are not ‘anti-data’. On the contrary, most recognise its value. Six in ten teachers (61%), rising to seven in ten senior leaders (70%), agree that data can help them do their jobs more effectively. Less than a fifth (18%) disagree.
Moreover, almost half (48%) find it easy to use assessments to understand pupil progress and put in place the necessary interventions – and less than a sixth (16%) do not. This echoes a similar finding from an earlier study by GL Assessment, which found that three-quarters of teachers acknowledged that data had highlighted pupil issues that they hadn’t been aware of previously5.
The majority of teachers (58%) say their school has at least one member of staff primarily responsible for data collection and analysis – in line with official recommendations – only a quarter say they don’t (24%). In secondary schools that rises to 69% but falls to 49% in primary schools.
By a margin of 3:1, teachers say their school shares assessment reports with parents (61% vs 20%). Conversely, well over half (57%) say parents don’t really understand the way their school reports on children’s progress, or understand why their school assesses in the way it does (51%).
Our survey clearly supports the findings of other national and international studies – teacher workload remains a problem and ways to address it remain, for many, elusive. Ineffective data and assessment practices continue to blight schools and teaching in ways that are ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst.
Nevertheless, there is cause for optimism. The vast majority of teachers are not ‘anti-data’ – they want consistency and clarity over its use. Most professionals appreciate that targeted assessments, well designed and used sparingly, can inform and enhance their practice and lead to better student outcomes. Moreover, effective assessments can reduce workload rather than add to it.