EIS President Phil Jackson, one of two EIS representatives on the Scottish Government’s working group on tackling bureaucracy, offers his perspective on the steps to tackling workload.  The working group – which was established in response to the launch of the EIS workload campaign – is in its early stages and will focus on cutting unnecessary paperwork.

The EIS campaign will highlight all aspects of teacher and lecturer workload with the aim of delivering real and lasting reductions in those workloads.

The Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning Mike Russell announced at the EIS AGM in June that his government would bring unnecessary paperwork to an end and promised the formation of a national working group on tackling bureaucracy.

This group has now met once and meets again on 2nd October with Education Committee Convener, Kay Barnett and myself, as national President, as members.

I have been giving some thought to hitherto unsuccessful attempts to tackle excessive workload and how, this time, the outcomes can be any different.

Following our own ‘A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century’ agreement in Scotland, the teaching unions in England and Wales agreed a document ‘Raising Standards and Tackling Workload’. This promised action on raising professionalism and trust and escaping the ‘shackles of excessive and inappropriate workload’.

Despite a number of measures a report in August, 2008 found that ‘there had been no overall reduction in teachers’ workloads because any reductions were countered by other initiatives which added to workload.’ Does this sound familiar?

So how are we going to succeed with our workload campaign this time around? First of all, these are some of the factors that impact negatively on workload:

  • Excessive planning and reporting
  • Work associated with the Curriculum for Excellence and National Qualifications
  • Excessive and unreliable systems of assessment, tracking and monitoring
  • Excessive/ inappropriate layers of quality assurance
  • Micromanagement
  • Ineffective management of change/ too many initiatives
  • Unreliable ICT systems
  • Inability of working time agreements and school improvement plans to control workload
  • Discipline

The above manifest themselves in schools in a number of ways. Excessive planning is a particularly critical area with duplicate planning and inappropriate planning such as for every experience and outcome of CfE. This is one area in which less is very often more in terms of freeing up time to concentrate on providing resources for specific lessons and teaching.

We must see a reduction of planning to manageable, meaningful levels. Parents’ representatives sit on the workload group and we need to listen to them and stick to essential information that parents can understand and not think that reams of paper is synonymous with quality.

The workload associated with CfE and the NQs is perhaps inevitable given such major changes but Mike Russell did promise more teacher support materials and resources on assessment and moderation at our AGM. The onus is very much on Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority to deliver.

ICT systems- On Track With Learning (embedded in Seemis)- have been foisted upon teachers despite no guarantee of fitness of purpose and with serious time wasting levels of unreliability. ICT needs investment in reliable hardware and technical support. ICT should not be one of the drivers of workload but should facilitate the easing of workload and free up time to teach.

I was personally involved in getting an LNCT up and running in my own area and was Joint Secretary of our LNCT since its inception in 2002. Our evaluation pro forma was adopted by the SNCT as a model of good practice.

I held great hope in working time agreements having real status and being a key factor in decreasing excessive workload. I know that this varies up and down the country but I have to say, given that the SNCT still cannot verify that there is the consistent collegiate working in Scotland, we need to look again at this area.

Of course school improvement plans are driven by local authority improvement plans and education department personnel have a big part to play in addressing teacher workload.

Finally, dealing with discipline issues should not be such a large part of the job of school management as it is in some schools and we need to look seriously at how ‘alternatives to exclusion’ is working in practice and consider the interests of the many as well as the few.

I have just touched upon some of the issues associated with workload. It is a complex area but our resolute aim is to achieve a real and sustainable reduction in the workload burden of our members.