Sunday, 2 January 2022

Supporting teachers with their workload

I am an English teacher and a head of department. As I have seen a lot of a my friends on Twitter rise to positions in senior leadership, I have stayed firmly rooted in my middle leadership role. I have dabbled and dipped my toe in the other sphere of leadership but felt I wanted and needed the comfort of my subject towel too much. I enjoy English, and teaching, and there comes a point when you move between middle and senior leadership that something has got to give. Largely, that’s the amount of teaching of your preferred subject. Yes, you might make massive changes and affect so many people, but you do that at a sacrifice of subject time and exposure. For me, a middle leader is one of the most influenctial jobs in a school. The senior leadership team might be the captain but the middler leaders are the rudder. A captain is useless without a rudder on his/her boat. The captain, however, can see the wider picture, yet the rudder can see the hidden issues or how things impact immediately.

As a head of department, you end up looking at lots of different things. Curriculum. Students. Teachers. Resources. Impact.  All this take time, thought and trial and error to get right or improve. Some things you get wrong and learn to avoid next time. Other things you get right and ensure you do them again and again. Workload, for me, has always been a constant factor in leadership. It is a thing I keep coming back to again and again. If the teacher has a healthy workload, then the teacher can focus on supporting students more. Teachers can teach better and more effectively is they are not worrying about X, Y and Z. That’s why I am so pleased that the workload question has appeared in Ofsted discussions. An overworked teacher isn’t going to get the best out of students. I know that from my own experience before being a head of department. I just worked at different level of frazzledness. It is also one of the reasons retention in teaching is an issue. I have worked in other jobs and the level of expectation and tasks completed in a day in teaching is phenomonal in comparison. For a simple comparison, think about how a break in a teaching day differs to that in other jobs. In other jobs, a break is a break. In teaching, it is a duty or a working break. It rarely is a ‘break’ break.


Sytems are the key to reducing workloads in my opinion. It isn’t massive big paid for resources, but a systematic approach. This, for years, has worked for other subjects. Step forward the textbook. But, for subjects like English a textbook doesn’t work well with our subject. The nature of English doesn’t sit well with a structured unit by unit approach written by a person who isn’t teaching in the same context and who has probably retired from teaching. Booklets have certainly started to plug that gap. For the past, five or so years I have been working on systems. Systems to support reading, spelling, vocabulary, writing and so on. We, now, have over four years of 200 Writing Challenges that means that we don’t have to plan a new one. We simply reuse, adapt or amend to suit our needs. There’s lots of room for creativity and experiementation but, in effect, we have 39 ready planned lessons a year, for Year 7, 8 and 9. This equates to 117 hours in total a year, which allows staff to focus on their teaching in other lessons. We’ve done that with a vocabulary lesson and spellings. Therefore, we have covered 234 hours in total. When teachers have deliberate writing practice, spellings and vocabulary out of the equation they can focus the component elements of teaching. They can focus on the steps that will make the students better and learn.  

Questions to ask for building a system

1.       Is this a process / aspect of teaching that is regulary repeated over a term and weeks? If it doesn’t, then you need another approach.

2.       Can the department agree to a clear and consitent structure to the process?

3.       Can the creation of materials be shared across the department? How would you spread the workload for the terms? 6 terms = 6 staff.

4.       Can the process be repeated across year groups to save time and resources?

5.       If the process can be used for more than one year group, how will this process be used in the longrun?  

6.       How will you monitor the quality of process? How will you tweak and adapt the process?


A system allows for clarity and reduces the cognitive overload for teachers and students.



Duplication of work is the biggest waster of time in schools. Twelve teachers spending an hour planning the same lesson separately and individually is quite common in schools. Agreeably, a teacher will teach something in their own particular way. However, the basic ingredients and elements are the same. The mode of transport might be different, but the journey will largely the same. Sadly, we see duplication again and again in schools. Rather that teachers having all their resources photocopied for them, they have to request individually or photocopy individually. Tasks are often duplicated when a simply the resources could be photocopied for staff at the beginning of each term. A good department, in my eyes, is one that doesn’t rely on the class teacher photocopying materials throughout the week. There’s nothing worse than having to wait in a queue for the photocopier to be free before the first bell goes. Frontload materials, resources and booklets so that the teacher doesn’t have to spend time worrying about resourcing a lesson and think about teaching a lesson.

But, interestingly we have duplication in terms of teaching messages and feedback. Let’s say you have a department of six. Six people in the department will feedback the same message. We know feedback is important, but so too is the message feedback as a department and consistency. Instead, we get a teaching equivalent of Chinese whispers. One teach will put emphasis on Question 2 on the exam paper and another will put the emphasis on something else. Overall, the messages aren’t consistent.

This year, we have experimented with assessment feedback and have trialled producing a feedback video. After each big assessment, I produce a video with the guidance of the department on the key issues and problems on the paper. This includes talking through examples and reteaching elements. We recently did this with a reading assessment and got students to address issues surrounding inferences and got them to practise making and writing inferences. During the process, the teacher was able to monitor or work closely with one or two students who struggled with this aspect. I will blog separately on this at a later date, because it was a fruitful process. Also, a great thing about this was that the feedback video can be used for revision for the next assessment but also used for missing students and used as a recap in lessons. One hour of my time amounted to saving teachers an hour, but also several hours, possibly, in lessons.


  Questions to ask about duplication

1.       What action is being repeated several times in the department?

2.       Is the duplication a process the individual wants?

3.       Can the process be done centrally or by one person?

4.       How is duplication monitored or identified?

5.       What photocopying can be done in bulk? Where will this be stored? How will people collect it?


Duplication ultimately means one, possibly, very important action is missed out.  


Teaching Components – resources

Some subjects lead themselves to this. You can practically Google any Science concept and find a video exploring that concept and component. Maths have the lovely Mr Hegarty. In English, we really struggle with this aspect. Type in something about metaphors and you either get a cartoon aimed at dogs explaining what a metaphor is,  or you get a bearded Open University professor exploring the use of mixed metaphors in Victorian poetry about fishing. You never get something clear, useful and meaningful. That’s why you rarely get English teachers sharing YouTube videos on things. They rarely explain and aspect effectively or at the level we want. That’s why English teaching can be quite exhausting because you are explaining everything without the help of support. Yes, we have examples, but often it is the teacher that created and delivers the explanation. That’s where we need to do some work.

We’ve started working this year on this element. Can we film a readymade explanation of a component so that the teacher can use it in the classroom to teach? We started with structuring a paragraph for literary analysis and it worked well. As a department, we had agreed how we’d do this and used it across the department so there was a consistent message, but also a clear understanding. There’s nothing worse than picking up a student in another year and them arguing how they had been taught to PEEL instead of whatever structure you want to use.

Readymade explanations and pre-filmed explanations are really important from a workload basis. They provide a good starting point but also a returning point. If a group are struggling with using quotations effectively, then a small 6 minute video with clear, detailed, stepped explanations is far for effective that the teacher quickly writing some examples on the board. Whilst there is nothing bad with teacher examples on the board, it would help a teacher if they had a ‘here’s one I made earlier’. This would then support them with the stepped progression. And stepped understanding. I could easily pick some examples of metaphors in my head, but I cannot guarantee I’d be able to quickly on a the spot talk them through a step by step explanation.

We are building up these explanation over the year so that with each new year we build up this bank of explanations. But these explanations are important from a SEND perspective or an absentee point of view. There needs to be some revisiting factored into the teaching of components, but also we need something in place for those who need extra support or who have missed lessons. Making these videos accessible to students is key. Students shouldn’t be disadvantaged if they miss one lesson.


  Questions to ask about components

1.       What are the key components of the topic?

2.       What explanations need to be repeated or explict in the topic?

3.       What explanations need to be teachled or videoled?

4.       How will you structure the explanation? What are the steps?

5.       How will teachers use the video? How will students interact with the video?

6.       How will the content of vidoes be revised, adapted and monitored to suit needs?

7.       What is the system for picking upn students who struggle to retain knowledge or have missed a lesson?


Explanations can and should be preprepared so that teachers can help monitor understanding and issues.


This blog isn’t just for heads of department. I am writing to all teachers. We are all in this together. We should at all levels look to improving / building the systems, avoiding dulplication and improving explanations in lessons. They will make all of our lives better, easier and more productive. It isn’t about adding, but about improving and reducing what we already do. I love it when, as a department, someone offers a way to make things colletively easier for the department. A leader can make changes,  but they shouldn’t always be the one to initiate change. A collective and organic system is far better for all. 

Be the voice for change. 

Thanks for reading,


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