10 low impact activities to do less of – or stop altogether.

Teachers and leaders across the country do too many things that have unacceptably high ratios of time and effort relative to their impact and/or they are unjustifiable educationally.  Sometimes I think that the debate about workload is tinkering around the edges when actually we need much more fundamental change.  I also think that we need to get assessment and accountability machinery back into perspective, making them more organic and more human.

My hunch is that if schools responded to the things included here in the way I’m suggesting, they would be better places to work, learning would be better and everyone would be happy. Well, happier.

Subject Report Comments: STOP. 

How many students improve their learning outcomes or experience of school because of what is written in their annual report? Hardly any. The input-outcome path is far too circuitous relative to the power of in-class feedback.  How many teacher-hours are spent on this per year? Way WAY too many.  Ditch them. Go for grades only plus one tutor report per year to give the personal touch.

Performance Management Documentation: STRIP BACK

All of this is far too convoluted.  No teacher is motivated by what it says in their performance management targets. Nobody works any harder because of what their appraisal documents say.  School culture drives that, week to week. The time sucked up for all of these processes is massive. Ditch it all in favour of the simplest one-sider of bullet points written during a one-to-one discussion.  Where there are capability processes or concerns, do that separately and handle pay progression intelligently based on professional judgements, recorded simply.

Data Drops: DO LESS

You can barely action the interventions suggested from one set of data before the next is due… it become a treadmill.  Much of the data that is ‘dropped’ is so far removed from the actual learning needs of a student that it doesn’t even help to identify what they need to do.  Teachers already know that.  How many do you really actually need?  One at the end – which serves as the start of the next year – and one in the middle?

Given all the horrible inherent data delusion fallacies that lead people to imagine a 5 in History is broadly the same as a 5 in Science, it’s barely worth the trouble – compared to the micro, low stakes,  formative, subject specific assessment that should go on in every class.  SLTs should get closer to the micro-action and ditch the Big Drops that tell them much less than they might think.

Logging Can Do statements in centralised tracking systems: STOP

I’m worried about the spawning of these giant statement tracking machines.  Nobody has the time to interact with a 30 x 60 statement database for each class they teach to identify specific learning needs.  It doesn’t even work when the statements are things like:   Can describe the function of cell structures: ‘Working towards’.  ‘Can evaluate evidence from sources to identify bias: Meeting expectations’.  Which structures? Which sources? How well do they describe or evaluate? How exactly should they improve?  I just don’t think this type of tracking is helpful. It should be lived and tracked through specific assessments that teachers and students can relate to in the detail.  As soon as it becomes a tick box against a generic descriptor it becomes pointless – or least, virtually pointless relative to the workload involved. And who is it for? Not the teacher. Not the student.

Grading Lessons or Book Scrutinies: STOP

Making these processes formative and collaborative where the outcomes are strengths and areas for development is all you need.  Grading is delusional guessing so should stop simply on that basis, but the high stakes surrounding grading fuel a workload pressure that is unsustainable.  Similarly with book scrutinies: there are ways of keeping in touch with standards that involve everyone, are time efficient and that don’t become overly burdensome.  Grading them is a nonsense.

Self-assessment reflection sheets: www/ebi  STOP

Even better if:  I stop making silly mistakes; I learn my times tables; I do more revision; I use the quotations better. ….. All of this non-specific sheet-filling is time consuming and way off the mark in terms of providing a route to actual improvement in learning: knowing things, being better at things. And teachers often are the ones sticking all the sheets in.  Instead of all this students should just get on with improvement tasks, there and then.  Reflection might be useful, but it doesn’t need to be evidenced or involve glue.

Written comments in books. DO MUCH LESS

Once you analyse the flow of transactions that follows from teacher marking, it’s evident that most of it is a waste of time. This is well documented by many people. I see it all the time – the weakest learners cannot translate written comments into actions that improve their understanding whereas they can act on direct verbal feedback.  So let’s get into the habit of using a sensible balance of some marking of specific work and assessments – and doing much more in-class feedback and self-assessment.

Detailed Lesson Plans: STOP

Learning is too dynamic to justify the effort required to describe or predetermine the details of any lesson.  Effective planning can be done at the level of lesson sequences using good objectives that detail knowledge and skill requirements; the collection of resources to support those objectives largely constitute the planning – why write it all down.  Most teachers just need to sketch out a few key points.  The question is : are lessons planned? That’s different to expecting a written plan.  And who has time to read other teacher’s plans in time to evaluate them?  It’s just part of the accountability driven de-professionalisation we’ve endured for too long. STOP.

Detailed School Development Plans:  STRIP BACK

As soon as you’ve written them, they are out of date.  Things change.  Priorities shift. New ideas emerge.  The process of forming a plan is important; the process of checking progress is important but given that there are only so many fronts you can sensibly fight on, any record of these things can be simple, lean and easy to track.  They do not all need to be SMART targets… who has time for all of that measuring and time tracking.  And if governors ask for something more detailed than you yourself need, they need to be told where to get off.

Producing original teaching resources: DO LESS

We spend too much time reinventing the wheel – don’t we?  Text books, collaboratively sourced resources – it’s all out there. Let’s get a grip on this and not martyr ourselves.  It might be rewarding to create resources; it should be part of everyone’s professional experience -but keep it manageable for everyone.  An NQT or new member of staff ought to be able to have a full set of stuff ready to roll – make that a reality.

27 comments

  1. What you’ve summarised is a lot of what we did as a school last year -by following action short.of strike action. Our results improved again. The power needs to be with with teachers and SLT should support us. It would probably help if they taught more. Then they wouldn’t have time to think up all the endless systems of monitoring they put in place.That way they actually would have an impact on results. The salary bill of most leadership teams is about £400k. Then there’s the trust salary. Upwards of £600k in many MATs. You can’t run a school without teachers but you probably could run it with a lot fewer leaders!!

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  2. If my last LEA & my last HT implemented these recommendations, I would still be a teacher and a happy one as well! Keep hitting that nail on the head, Tom – you’ll build something soon for sure.

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  3. I agree with all of this. I was AHT for assessment and data and one of my proudest moves was to do away with written reports for exactly the reasons you state. We did 3 data drops a year and I refused to do any more for exactly the reasons you state and parents received the information each term. Sadly, the school recently re-introduced full written reports!

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  4. The most common sense Headteacher blog I have ever seen bar none. A great set of tips. I would also add subject parents evenings in the secondary school – if your formative assessment is right, a student led discussion involving parent and form tutor should suffice.
    Great blog, Tom

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Which school of thought (or control) produces SLT ‘managers’ that insist on all of these unproductive tasks. This article provides a precise list of activities that are adding to teachers workload and detracting from effective time in the classroom. We need to drill down and root out the source of the advocates for these timewasting measures. Are they to satisfy inspectors/governors/industry sponsors or parents? Which ‘management’ training vehicle is promoting this stuff, that seems to now be prevalent across the country? It is part of the reason why so many good teachers are leaving the profession within their first few years!

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  6. […] Data is an endless chore for teachers, simply designed to inform school leaders of student progress and ‘where interventions may be able to take place’ in examination classes – under-performing groups if you’re lucky! By the time the data collection is complete, teachers are either being asked to evaluate what they will do next, or have been asked to submit data for another group of students. It’s easy to see why teachers can always feel like they are submitting summative assessments of their students throughout the entire academic year. Tom Sherrington writes in 10 low impact activities to do less of – or stop altogether: […]

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  7. Thank you! Glad to hear from a Headteacher that I’m not alone in thinking that a lot of this is completely unnecessary.

    Most of this drove me out of teaching – permanently or so I thought (along with being told by the DH who then became the Head that I “wasn’t considered a good teacher”).

    Now been invited by a former colleague who is DH at a school where much of this advice appears to have been followed. Fingers crossed it all works out!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. […] By the time the data collection is complete, teachers are either being asked to evaluate what they will do next, or have been asked to submit data for another group of students. It’s easy to see why teachers can always feel like they are submitting summative assessments of their students throughout the entire academic year. Tom Sherrington writes in 10 low impact activities to do less of – or stop altogether: […]

    Liked by 1 person

  9. All of the above are things that teachers agree, only if SLT/ managers see it this way can something be done. Time spent on individual sport/ feedback in lessons is more important than writing with red all over a pupils work. Even when results show that you are doing a fantastic job a teacher has to stick with ‘school policy’ for all of the ideas given!

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  10. […] 10 low impact activities to do less of – or stop altogether.Teachers and leaders across the countr… Caveat, not totally sold on these two points. Purpose of both of them is to stimulate a very valuable process (reflection and detailed planning respectively), in a way that makes the thinking of the reflector/planner visible. That said, reflections much better scaffolded… And enabled though conversation and shifting of culture, but I think that written reflections by students have a place in classrooms when there isn’t time to chat 1 on 1 with all students (e.g., an exit ticket can be a short reflection). Also… A clarification. I’m only suggesting detailed plans for teachers in training as they force in-depth thinking and make this visible to a mentor. Congrats on 4 million hits @teacherhead! […]

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  11. I agree with nearly all of this – especially the points about reducing administration and performance managing teachers, that has little to do with the quality of teaching itself. My concern is when student teachers are advised to do less planning of individual lessons – as in the recent DfE advice to ITE providers (5/11/18). Planning is a professional skill, not an admin duty. Student teachers who make weak progress nearly always struggle to plan for pupils to learn. Even great student teachers take time to learn how to plan really well to meet pupils’ needs. They can’t just ‘sketch out a few key points’ and we need to be sure that learning to teach is given the time it deserves – including for thoughtful planning.

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    • I agree to a degree. Planning a learning sequence is usually more helpful than lesson by lesson I would say plus this doesn’t need to be written out in detail. That’s where the admin burden kicks in. Sketching out a lesson is fine. Using established shared resources is also really sensible early on.

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  12. Absolutely correct.
    We don’t have any of these pointless burdens and get fabulous P8 scores while retaining our staff. Casterton College Rutland looks after its staff and they look after its students.

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