You can almost smell the burning indignation of Daily Mail readers as they read the following story on ‘Duvet Days’ for teachers.
“Lessons in Laziness from lie-in teachers” is the war-cry. If you dare, take a look below the line at the comments, and wade through a sea of stereotype-laden opprobrium. Bloody lazy teachers, eh?
Now, a more balanced reflection of the story would recognise that we have a teacher recruitment problem. This problem is in part precipitated by a universally recognised workload problem. ‘Duvet days’ are not uncommon in the world of work, so we shouldn’t be surprised when we need to coax people from other careers into teaching, that we use the recruitment tools common in those other careers.
It is great headline fodder and is likely missing a lot of the necessary detail to understand the hard work of the teachers and the decisions of the Head teacher.
Put bluntly, I think that the notion of duvet days for teachers is no system-wide solution by any means. For obvious reasons, it is not likely a scalable approach to solving the teacher recruitment problem, nor solve our workload issues. And yet, I understand what the decision has been taken and why a headteacher may decide to publicise it.
So what would prove a more viable sustainable, long-term solution to our workload issues?
Well, that question puzzles us all, but there are alternative solutions:
Get wise on assessment
Having read Daisy Christodoulou‘s ‘Making Best Progress?‘ recently, and muddled through years of assessment design and redesign, I am more convinced than ever that we can blame the government for create a battery of high stakes testing if we wish (primary assessment in particular has been blunder after blunder), but that we need to look more squarely in the mirror too when it comes to how we teach and assess our students.
Having students undertake multiple mock exams is not only a massive issue for teacher workload, it is likely an inferior model of assessment. Rather than doing three mock exams a year, we could have a superior formative assessment model that included regular quizzes, short answer tests and multiple choice questions, planned coherently and cumulatively. It could help our students learn more effectively, with more precise feedback, building their base knowledge and understanding (more of this in an imminent blog post) and at the same time save a huge amount of unnecessary effort.
By selecting different and narrower assessments to full and half mocks, we actually enhance the accuracy of the assessment, get better feedback, and build and consolidate their knowledge and understanding. A mock should be left for as late as possible and if we do so then it will tell us more and prove much more useful.
The mountain of marking
Of course, there is mock exam marking, but that is only the tip of the workload mountain. Marking is undoubtedly a major factor driving people to burnout. To phrase it simply: any marking policy that demands written feedback back on a arbitrary timed basis, like ‘marking books every five lessons’, is wasteful, fatuous and conveys a profond misunderstanding about teaching and learning.
There, I’ve said it!
We can devise a feedback policy that is sensible, balancing instantaneous oral feedback – our core business – with light, purposeful and truly formative written feedback. There are a plethora of good ideas, from whole class feedback templates, to using audio technology, that can save our time and reduce our workload. Teachers just need a proper mandate from school leaders and the tools to support them.
The tyranny of tracking
You can spy the driving force behind our approaches to formative assessment. In truth, we push our students through lots of summative assessments to appease our hungry tracking systems and to mask our anxieties about student progress.
If we want to improve our workload problem without necessitating a ‘duvet day’, we can streamline our tracking models. Data inputs every half-term takes excess time and effort and it is of our own creation (and usually part of systematic duplication of jobs for teachers).
We should ask: how valid is our data? How useful are our targets?
Let’s educate parents about progress and assessment and have our teachers spending their vital meeting and training time on co-planning the curriculum, not endlessly punching in data. Buying in tracking systems that give a fanciful calculation for scaled scores, Progress 8, and more, is driving up our workload and pushing teachers out of the door.
Right, it is nearly the Easter holiday – I need a lie down…
If you have a spare minute, take a look at my ‘The Teacher Workload Collection‘.