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Time is Money

So, our new Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, has set out his agenda for education in England, in the process acknowledging that funding in schools is tight and promising to address teachers’ workload. This is consistent with our experience at Highgate Primary, where we too are struggling to balance the budget and where our teachers work incredibly hard. However, what Hinds appears to have overlooked is how these two issues are inextricably linked.

All our teachers have an absolute commitment to doing the best for their children. No teacher enters the profession to do a mediocre job; people become teachers because they want to make a difference; they want to inspire children, help them to make fantastic progress and support them to grow into happy, confident and well-rounded adults. But to do this well requires hard work.

Lessons need to be thought through, thoroughly planned and modified to make sure the teaching meets the needs of all children. Teachers need to ensure their lessons are well resourced in order to engage children. Weekends and evenings are spent making resources, putting together presentations, searching out the texts that will inspire children.

Then there are assessments. Books need to be marked, reading records updated, learning targets set and tests papers marked. Judgements have to be made against national criteria and data entered into the school’s tracking database. Pupil’s individual records need to be updated and observations written up – and of course there are annual school reports to be produced.

There’s the learning environment to consider. It’s hard enough keeping on top of the mess made by one child at home. Try multiplying that by 30, making sure a space is created that will inspire children to learn. There are displays to be put up, school trips to organize, after-school clubs to arrange, emails to respond to and meetings to attend. And all that’s on top of the time in the classroom in front of children. The reality is that the list of things a teacher has to do is endless.

Unfortunately, reducing workload is much harder than it sounds as there are really only two ways to do it: reduce the list of things to do, or increase the amount of support available to teachers.

Reducing the list of things our teachers do would inevitably impact on the richness of education provided. Lessons that are not thoroughly planned will not be as effective or ones where the experience of every child has been considered. Reducing time spent marking will reduce a teacher’s understanding of each child. Stopping school trips, residential journeys or after-school clubs will lessen every child’s experience of school. That’s not to say we can’t all become more efficient in our time management and overall effectiveness, but quite simply, reducing the quality of our planning, preparation and assessment will have an impact on outcomes.

Increase the amount of time given to teachers to carry out all the things they need to do beyond planning, teaching and assessment could be achieved by taking on extra staff; teachers, support staff and admin support. But this costs money which, given current funding constraints, schools don’t have.

So what is the answer to this conundrum? In my experience teachers don’t mind working hard. We get a buzz out of planning great experiences for our children, we are excited to see the progress children make, we get to hang out with fantastic young people – and we get great holidays! All we ask is that this commitment is genuinely recognised, appreciated and valued by our politicians – with a sensible level of funding to match.​

William