Workload – Spreading us too thin

I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed! Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.

The Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien)

That quote has been coming to mind all week; I can’t think of a better way to express how I feel. I’ll start off by saying that I really love my job and my school. It is a fantastic place to work with well motivated and well behaved kids – and the same can be said for our SLT. I know there are many who have it a lot worse. 

It isn’t really about the hours worked. A workload study for the DfE shows that teachers work on average 54 hours a week and that sounds about right. A poll on TES shows that most people feel they work more hours than average, which I think just tells us something about human nature. 

54 hours a week, whilst hardly ideal, is just about workable for me, although I have no idea how those with children manage it. For me, workload isn’t about the number of hours worked but the huge amount of different things to focus on during that time. This is what is leaving me felt like butter spread over too much bread.

Earlier today I took the dogs for a walk. Let me give you a glimpse into the internal monologue I had going on the entire time.

That was an interesting point on progress made at the Hub meeting, I wonder if we are tracking it well enough with the new specs? Maybe I need to look again at the assessments for year 10…  can’t look at that Monday, I need to finish sorting out the field work for the Year 12s. How are we going to work it for those entering the AS level this year – how are we going to teach them ready for that exam when the others don’t need it? Must remember to but the new fieldwork for KS4 on the agenda. Maybe we should move it back to September. That would mean that… Oh and the PLCs – have to respond to that email about making sure they are in the system… maybe we could…

And so it goes on and on. Workload isn’t just about the time spent physically planning, assessing, writing reports, attending meetings etc. It is the mental exhaustion of trying to keep dozens of plates spinning, or trying to juggle a dozen watermelons as people throw new ones into the mix with each ping of an email. 

Like I say – I have it lucky. I was reading Shaun Allison’s excellent article for SSAT on Workload Matters where he gives a number of excellent suggestions for how senior leaders can tackle excessive workload – and our school already does them. As Stephen Tierney points out, in Worload Can’t Be Solved By A Poster, it is disingenuous for the DfE to try and lay the blame for workload entirely at the feet of school leaders. The vast majority of mine has been caused by the way the new GCSEs were brought in, far too late, at the same time as the new A levels, even later, and alongside the removal of national curriculum levels, whilst still judging us on progress made. 

This year, and I suspect the same will be true next year, I am spread far too thin. Bringing in these new GCSEs specifications (which are completely different to the last) at the same time as the new A level ones (likewise) is a full time job in itself. It leaves no mental space left for anything else. But of course everything else needs doing, and thinking about, as well. All those things we would do if the specs hadn’t changed we still need to do now regardless. 

I am back to pointing out that I am lucky. I work in a very supportive school, with an SLT who take these issues seriously. I have a wonderful and experienced team. I have been teaching for long enough to be very efficient in what I do. And yet…

I don’t like to present a problem without suggesting solutions but I’m afraid I don’t have any. Yet. But leave it with me and I’ll give it some thought. I’ll add it to the list. 


2 thoughts on “Workload – Spreading us too thin

  1. This is so true. I’m meeting myself coming back in the opposite direction. That conversation you had during your walk is the same one I have with myself on my drive home. I have two young children so I’m trying to spin many plates. As a consequence of everything you have mentioned has led me to give up my TLR as HoD this week.

    Liked by 1 person

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