Tackle Workload. This bandwagon actually matters.

Image: Business Horse Power

Everyone is talking about workload and rightly so.  It’s even becoming a line of enquiry for inspections.  The folk up at Wizard of O HQ are banging on about it – because they are the new Good Guys –  and Headteachers now have an extra incentive to make sure they are doing something.  This time, happily, this bandwagon is something we can all agree is necessary.  Even though real terms budget cuts mean schools have fewer admin staff to make people’s lives easier and teachers have MaxPlus timetable loadings and bigger classes – making workload potentially harder to manage – there is still plenty that we can do.

Some workload issues require a major culture shift; some simply need us to rebalance the trade-off between the benefits of autonomy  and the benefits of working collaboratively within an agreed system; others need us to stop doing certain things altogether.

Here are some workload reduction approaches you might want to consider:


Change marking expectations explicitly and publicly.  Change all the language around marking  to feedback.  Make it clear that only specific pieces of work will be teacher marked.  Keep the marking very lean and very selective.  Introduce whole-class feedback as the default method replacing teacher red pen in books and don’t make your book scrutinies into marking-checks.  They are for looking at standards and progress.

During testing periods – like mock exams – cut back on the scale of each exam and be clear that test marking will replace other forms of marking during that period.

Remember – the learning impact of marking is very very low. If your main reason for maintaining an intense marking culture is parental expectations, then just tell them you’re changing things and explain why.


In my view, there is way too much duplication of effort across schools – and the nation (See this Reinventing the Wheel post).  If you are taking workload seriously you can make a big difference – and support setting standards – by making sure that every unit of work has one central scheme of work with one set of default resources: questions, reading, worksheets, slides etc. This then provides everyone with a backbone to deviate from if they choose to; if they have time.  But – it means that, at any time, you can use the standard materials without having to create anything extra most of the time.

For this to work, because teachers often don’t like using other people’s stuff, you need to produce as much of this as you can collaboratively with everyone contributing and, thus, developing important curriculum design skills.  Agree on the format and standards and don’t be too precious about sharing or about using materials other people have produced.   If you invest in this this year, it will make future years so much easier, replacing the culture of teachers scrabbling around making their own resources, making tests, planning good learning sequences etc.  This should all be there for you, allowing you to focus on how to deliver the lessons.


This is simple:  Ditch writing subject comments.  It’s a massive, massive workload burden with very little gain in terms of learning – alongside all the nonsense of creating ‘meaningful’ comments and the tedious, laborious proof-reading that is required.   If you do one overall tutor comment per year and report all subject progress through codes and grades, it cuts workload massively.  My son’s schools did this last year; it worked well. The Head wrote to explain and that was that.  It makes total sense.


Every time you make pro forma and think – it will only take a minute – multiply that by 100 and then ask whether you really need the information.  Are you asking because you genuinely want the information or is it really a form of control.  Keep information requests to an absolute minimum in the most streamlined format.


I don’t think schools can run safely without teachers doing duties. It’s always going to be part of the deal.  However, I recommend that staff consider switching to duty weeks instead of weekly duties.  I have used this system in some previous schools and staff were very positive about it.  Duty weeks generate a rota where you do a duty every day for a week – thus making plans to allow that to be a focus – but then do no duties at all in the other weeks.  Give it some thought.



The answer here is: Cut it right back.  You just do not need to collect so much data centrally at departmental level or whole-school level.  My challenge:  if you halved the number of data drops, what difference would it make?  Do it – try it – and see if you really, really need more data to know what is going on with students.


Make every meeting count. One meeting per week can feel difficult to achieve if you factor in parents’ evenings, open days and all the rest – but it isn’t so much the number of meetings as the quality of them.  I suggest that most meetings should be designed around collaborative planning and CPD – and that’s about it.  Of course there is a need for open-ended discussion and for sharing information but most meetings should help to reduce workload by being productive rather than adding to it by leaving everyone with a list of tasks and no time.

I wish I had followed some of Andy Buck’s advise from Leadership Matters – having more meetings standing up, quickly agreeing a plan and then using the time saved to do the actions. Avoid dustbin syndrome:  setting an hour aside for a meeting and then filling it.

Always live type notes and minutes during a meeting. It’s so easy to do and saves hours of faffing afterwards.

Protect Tutors

Ever been a form tutor?  It’s busy.   I remember the old days of collecting trip money but there is still a lot to do, especially if there is a programme of PSHE or reading to support and tutors have a role in backing up behaviour and rewards systems.  Alongside the day-to-day attendance monitoring and pastoral care, that’s about enough isn’t it? So, if you hear some say ‘we could get tutors to do it’, just stop them. They’re already busy.  There is a graveyard of failed initiatives across the system that have relied on tutors finding magic minutes.


Teachers  like freedom and trust when it comes to emails – but this needs to be balanced against workload.  I think email systems should have a gate-keeper who has a workload reduction brief.  Allstaff emails should only be sent by a small group – perhaps including the Head , a couple of deputies, the business manager and staff association rep?  This means you don’t get bombarded and you can control the culture about emails that require quick responses.   Personally, I prefer to manage my email when I want to in my own time – but I recognise sending emails out of office hours can be seen as stress-inducing. I think this needs serious consideration . Email traffic can be ludicrous and tackling it is a good place to look.


I imagine that most schools have moved toward a ‘rarely cover’ situation.  If not, then that is certainly the way to go. Aim for Zero Cover.  We’ve come a long way since the days of checking the cover board daily.

However, there is still scope for staff to help each other and the SLT to balance a healthy ‘family first’ culture, opportunities for CPD and keeping the cover budget under control.  This requires agreeing to cover each other on a reciprocal basis to oil the wheels of the system.  If you always expect supply cover, it simply means that fewer things can happen – because the money isn’t there.  In terms of workload, I find that it is much easier to liaise with a colleague than to set cover work and pick up the pieces after a lesson that has had supply cover.

And then there are these things:

It’s worth looking at this and holding O to their word.


  1. Very interesting post. Thankyou. It makes me wonder if I’m investing too much time in detailed marking and comments.

    Could you link to the poster above so I can download and print it?


  2. I’m sharing this with all of our school leaders in our next CMAT newsletter. It’s so important that we start to think proactively about getting this right! The ideas outlined here are “Brighouse butterflies” – sometimes it’s about courageous leadership!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi I’d be interested to read the research (or any research) on the impact (or lack of) of report writing. Can you point me in the direction of your source?


  4. Comment disappeared. Please can I have links to research on lack of impact of report writing? Trying to challenge school policy on this.


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