The clear message from headteachers is stark. They are unable to recruit the teachers they need to continue to drive up standards. The situation is particularly difficult for schools serving disadvantaged communities and at secondary level, particularly in mathematics and science, but increasingly in all subjects. We have to face facts: teaching as it is now is no longer an attractive career choice for many. Unless we change what it is like to be a teacher, we will continue to struggle to recruit.
Let’s consider the facts. Teachers have always worked long hours but in the last decade or so, the demands upon teachers have ramped up to unreasonable and unsustainable levels. Surveys, for instance the NUT and YouGov survey published in October 2015, found that over half of teachers were thinking of leaving teaching in the next two years, citing ‘volume of workload’ (61%) and ‘seeking better work/life balance’ (57%) as the two top issues causing them to consider this. According to research by the National Foundation for Educational Research, cited in the TES, teachers are ‘exhausted’ and ‘workload is at the centre’ of why teachers consider leaving. Most responses to Nottingham’s Education Improvement Board’s own consultation on its strategic plan, Ambition 2025, asked the board to act to reduce teacher workload.
In Nottingham, we decided to do something about it. A sub-group of the Education Improvement Board (EIB) was formed to come up with some proposals. Representatives of the headteacher, teacher and school staff unions in the city came together to work on a solution. Key to this, was finding a middle ground where headteachers could be confident of their schools still delivering good provision and which school staff unions could support as certain to cut their members’ excessive workloads.
The charter expects schools to assess the likely workload impact of their policies on their staff and to share this assessment each year. School policies should be deliverable within no more than an additional two hours a day beyond directed time for teachers (and three hours a day for those with leadership responsibilities).For staff other than teachers, policies should be reasonably deliverable within contracted hours.
The fair workload charter operates in a similar way to the living wage campaign. If you choose to work for a living wage employer, you know they will pay you more than the minimum wage.
Schools adopting the charter receive the EIB fair workload logo to use on their adverts and publicity. Potential applicants will be reassured about the workload demands that will be placed upon them in choosing a charter school over one elsewhere that has not adopted the charter.
On Friday 17 November 2017, the EIB hosted a conference about the charter in Nottingham. Around 60 delegates attended from all over the country and from abroad, including Northern Ireland and Wales and from Iceland and Sweden. They were addressed by representatives of the EIB and national leaders, including the deputy director of the Department for Education, Ofsted and the joint general secretary of the National Education Union. The headteacher of Three Bridges Primary in London (dubbed ‘the happiest school in England’) outlined how his school has rid itself of time wasting marking whilst retaining its ‘good and outstanding’ Ofsted grades.
The EIB hopes that it has found a local solution to a national problem. One that will make teaching in Nottingham attractive again.
Strategic lead, Nottingham Education Improvement Board