Education is a political football. New fads forever appear. With each passing government, the requirements of schools and colleges veer. Leadership shunts these requirements upon teachers. Modern teaching involves more than just teaching. Our practitioner is a data scientist, policy writer, health and safety co-ordinator, child psychologist, keeper of British culture, MI5 agent, communications expert, budgeteer, and marketer.
Teachers SHOULD NOT be overworked. The school day is ample time for any teacher to fulfil their obligations. Yet jobs are like a gas. They expand to swell their container. For teachers, the container becomes every waking hour.
This is wrong, but there is a simple solution. Decrease the container.
Why does the number of jobs expand? The mechanism is as thus: OFSTED introduces a new requirement. Senior leadership interpret this requirement through the lens of a manager and not a leader. They see the new requirement as a job to be done. This is then passed down to teachers as another item on a bulging to do list.
Teachers become confused. Perturbed teachers behave like perturbed students. They freeze. Confusion leads to inertia. Confusion requires greater brain power. As an energy saving organism, the human being then stops performing effectively. Millions of priorities leads to burnout and the instrument becoming blunt.
How can this be avoided?
For starters, leaders need to look at OFSTED in the cold light of day. It is a FRAMEWORK for what makes a good school. It is not a shopping list. It is a quality assurance tool and not something to design your school or colleges entire workflow by.
The daily activities of a school or college should be determined by an overall ambition or vision set by the leader. What do you want your school to look like? How do you want your school to serve the community? How do you want your school to serve your students? What is your ethos? How does your ethos come across to your students? What is your educational philosophy? Is your curriculum designed to deliver this philosophy?
Your vision should include the basic tenets of education: –
- How do you provide education to the level required by your students in order to fulfil their ambitions? (Teaching and Learning)
- Do children feel safe and able to flourish at your school? (Personal behaviour, development and welfare)
- How are we setting young people up to become fulfilled, effective, future contributors to our society? (Outcomes for Learners)
The answers to these questions will produce a blueprint for your school or college. (As an aside, I wrote these questions off the top of my head before realising the map to the key areas of Ofsted inspection .). Once answered, leaders should then pick one area for the whole organisation to focus upon. By focusing on one area at a time, the whole organisation gradually moves towards the vision.
One clear focus allows staff to feel that they are progressing. They know what they are responsible for and can judge their progress easily. One area of focus requires discipline. It requires a strong plan in the background that addresses all other requirements of the organisation. The plan shows you are on it. The focus allows for a concrete course of action and a clear understanding of what is presently required.
Having one clear focus concentrates effort. Sunlight can cause a tan. Sunlight through a magnifying glass can burn a hole in your hand. Focus achieves greater effect for the same energy.
Whats more, it achieves an end result in much less time.
Schools and colleges focused on one key area can abandon all other minutiae in pursuit of their most important goal. They can ignore superfluous activity in favour of activities that move the needle. Teachers workloads will decrease as leadership have made the container of work small and specific.
The gas fills a lower volume.
A clear focus for the present allows effective implementation. A clear vision for the future allows for the development of a clear plan. A clear area of focus reduces teachers workloads. A clear plan for the future satisfies OFSTED. Just as a driving instructor finds reasons to fail a student if their car feels jerky and out of control, so an OFSTED inspector will penalise a school if it feels directionless and is fighting fires. Laser focus, a clear vision and a concrete plan will soothe OFSTED. They know youre in safe hands.
One focus will significantly reduce teachers workload. They will no longer attempt to be all things to all men, flailing in a sea of ill-thought-out todos and extra responsibilities. They will feel supported, part of a journey and like theyre contributing to an overall direction.
The hours in a school day is enough time for all teachers to fulfil their obligations. They just need to know which obligations are important and to be focused on right now and which obligations are planned for in the future.
Strong leaders decide whats important, release the burden and empower staff to make progress. They ensure their staff are in great shape.