Teaching is one of the most noble, rewarding and gratifying professions you can choose, with an impact on our society that is immeasurable in its reach; however all of this has come with some small print in recent years.

If you got the jobs that you needed to get done finished an hour before you were due to complete them... would you just find something else to add to your list?

How often have you said, “I don’t have time”? You were lying to yourself! As you are reading this, time is ticking away and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Time exists; how we use the time we have will either lead to exhaustion or a work life balance. As a serial procrastinator and queen of never stopping, I have had to learn many tricks to avoid that impending sick note that would be on the horizon if I didn’t sort it out. If you are always rushing to meet deadlines at the last minute or exhausted but nowhere near the end of your to do list, perhaps it will be worth five minutes of your time right now to read some of the pointers that I learned to help me put time back into perspective.

Teacher workload. One of the biggest challenges the sector is facing. It’s an ongoing battle with teachers expressing that three of the biggest areas that lead to unnecessary workload are marking, planning and data management.

It is curious that with all the talk about teacher workload and the recruitment & retention crisis, taking place at the same time is a new phenomenon; the grassroots CPD movement. In towns and cities across the country, teachers are giving up their Saturdays to attend Teachmeets, ResearchEd, and BrewEd events. This is heartening because it confirms that it isn’t hard work that teachers are complaining about, but unnecessary work.

Was there ever a time where teachers worked 35-hour weeks? I doubt it. Whether you’re working 40, 50 or 60 hours a week, we all know, it needs to be reduced, as teachers deserve a positive work-life balance.

Is there such a thing as “work-life balance” in teaching?

As teachers, we know that it can be difficult to find the off switch. A teacher’s job is never done and that is what makes finding a good work-life balance so difficult. I have always strived for perfection in my job as a secondary mathematics teacher, but I have also always been a sociable and active person. When I began my career I found it hard to achieve both. I soon learnt to work smarter rather than harder, allowing me to reduce my workload and gain a great work-life balance. So, here are my tips on how you could achieve this for yourself.

As featured on MyTutor's school blog

Sorry, not sorry – this mostly involves letting them use their phones in class.

I am finding it increasingly so bizarre that phones are not utilised in education more often. And, yes, there is something to be said for having a bit of a digital detox, but phones are an inherent part of everyday life: why are we excluding them from this part?

We all know that teacher and senior leader workload reduction is top of the national agenda, but the real challenge is how to achieve this. One man who’s decided to face the issue head-on is Simon Hickton, Managing Director of Cornerstones – a primary curriculum provider used by 2000+ schools in the UK and internationally. A self-professed ‘doer’, former headteacher Simon was keen to create an innovative, easy-to-use curriculum tool that could help leaders and teachers design and implement a whole-school curriculum at the click of a few buttons.

As I’ve only just dipped my toe into school leadership, I was surprised at just how difficult it has been this year. Simply managing your class, or leading a subject, is a full time, stressful job all year round. Throw the demands of leading a core subject - or the day-to-day demands of managing a school - into the mix, and ‘stressful’ doesn’t describe it. Thankfully, there’s a great, highly-accessible resource to hand: music.

How exactly can music can inspire leaders? To find out, we first need to discuss how it can make a difficult job easier. I am a musician and play a number of instruments. Playing an instrument, even when you have lots of experience, requires your full and complete concentration. Playing the piano, as I do, requires you to engage so many different elements of your body, both physical and mental that any other thought goes quickly out of the window.

That sheer level of concentration is how I destress. The only place where thoughts of school go fully out of my mind is sat at a piano stool. Any school leader, or teacher for that matter, needs something that completely frees their mind of school - be it exercise, meditation, and so on. This is definitely a vocation rather than a job; you simply can’t walk away at 3.30. However - and this is vital - you MUST be able to compartmentalise in order to survive.

The other way that music helps me with wellbeing is singing. I sing in a community choir once a week. Whilst the levels of concentration are different, this is another oasis in a busy week, one which frees my mind from thoughts of school. Music, and singing in particular, has so many physical and mental benefits.

A review by Chanda and Levitin (2013) highlighted the positive impact of simply listening to music in a variety of ways. The review showed that listening to music releases dopamine and oxytocin in the brain, whilst also increasing the body’s immunity by supporting the production of immunoglobulin A, an antibody that works through the mucous system. One of the studies reviewed also found that listening to music resulted in a decrease in cortisol, the ‘stress’ hormone.

Singing has also been found to have major physical impacts upon the body, particularly the respiratory system (Vickhoff, 2013). Singing, especially in a group, produces a coupling of heart rate variability to respiration, a process called respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). Singing produces slow, regular and deep respiration, which in turn triggers RSA. RSA is a benefit of activities such as yoga and tai chi, so singing can be seen as an alternative to these, as well as having other physical and emotional benefits.

So music is good for you. Listening to music and singing along, whether in an organised way with a choir or simply in the shower, or in the car, on the way to work, can have a positive impact on your body - both mentally and physically. Music can provide a moment of calm in a busy, stressful day. It can help to clear your mind, allowing you to de-stress.

So where does the school leader inspiration come in? Well, if all the things above work, then you are better able to do your job. If your whole outlook has changed, if you are calmer and your body is tuned and able to function, then you will do your job better. I could write a whole article on how music inspires me and others, but first we need bodies and minds that are healthy and able to work. Listen to music, sing along (well or otherwise) and arrive at work with an opportunity to have a positive impact on the children in your care. This year, the doctor subscribes a burst of ABBA, Queen or Ed Sheeran on your journey into work (possibly not on public transport...).

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In March 2016 the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group completed their report entitled ‘Eliminating unnecessary workload around marking’. Since the publication of this report, I wonder how much has changed in schools across the country? How many senior leaders have read the report and those written by The Education Endowment Foundation, along with blogs and recommendations from people such as Ross ‘@TeacherToolkit’ McGill?

In the report’s foreword, Dawn Copping wrote:

“...What was very clear from the start was the shared view that marking had become a burden that simply must be addressed, not only for those currently in the profession but for those about to enter it. Our job was to discover how we ended up here and how we could make the long overdue change needed to help restore the work-life balance, passion and energy of teachers in this country…”

So how do we do it? What should schools do? What should senior leaders do? First, we need to look at the expectations we have of our teachers on the type, frequency and volume of marking they are completing, and the impact this has on their workload. The NUT reported last year that 45% of young teachers have concerns over their mental health and are considering leaving the profession, with 85% citing workload as a factor (NUT 2017). Yes, you read that correctly. 85% citing workload! When I considered the biggest impact on workload here at Kingham Primary, marking would be near the top of the list - if not at the very top. So, what did we decide to do about it?

Firstly, as the headteacher of the school responsible for staff wellbeing and therefore workload, I did some research - I wanted what I was saying to the staff to be accurate and not based on a whim or any new fads. Here are some of the books and articles I read to prepare:

  • Mark. Plan. Teach.: Save Time. Reduce Workload. Impact Learning. - Ross Morrison McGill, Bloomsbury, 2017
  • Talk for Teaching: Completely Rethinking Professional Development in Schools - Paul Garvey, John Catt Educational Ltd, 2017
  • Balancing Workload, assessment and Feedback in the Primary Classroom - Andy Moor, Impact journal of The Chartered College of Teaching, 2017
  • Eliminating unnecessary workload around marking; Report of the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group - March 2016

As a staff, we then discussed the research and unpicked the myths staff had during a staff meeting - this was very animated, and we had a robust discussion. Interestingly, most staff had myths about what Ofsted would want to see, such as: the volume of marking, frequency of marking, written feedback, pupils responding to feedback, every piece of work being marked, verbal feedback needs to be recorded and depth of marking - all of which can be very burdensome. We asked ourselves who are we marking for? This was also a discussion we had as a staff. Was it for: Ofsted? Senior leaders? Subject leaders? Parents? Pupils?

In eliminating unnecessary workload around marking, the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group stated:

The quantity of feedback should not be confused with the quality. The quality of the feedback, however given, will be seen in how a pupil is able to tackle subsequent work… we recommend that all marking should be meaningful, manageable and motivating.’

The following, meanwhile, is taken from the Ofsted School Inspection Handbook, April 2018:

The information below serves to confirm facts about the requirements of Ofsted and to dispel myths about inspection that can result in unnecessary workloads in schools. It is intended to highlight specific practices that are not required by Ofsted. Inspectors must not advocate a particular method of planning, teaching or assessment. It is up to schools themselves to determine their practices and for leadership teams to justify these on their own merits rather than by reference to this inspection handbook."

  • Ofsted does not expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders. Ofsted recognises that the amount of work in books and folders will depend on the subject being studied and the age and ability of the pupils.
  • Ofsted recognises that marking and feedback to pupils, both written and oral, are important aspects of assessment. However, Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy. Marking and feedback should be consistent with that policy, which may cater for different subjects and different age groups of pupils in different ways, in order to be effective and efficient in promoting learning.
  • While inspectors will consider how written and oral feedback is used to promote learning, Ofsted does not expect to see any written record of oral feedback provided to pupils by teachers.
  • If it is necessary for inspectors to identify marking as an area for improvement for a school, they will pay careful attention to the way recommendations are written to ensure that these do not drive unnecessary workload for teachers.”

The response at Kingham Primary was to create a new policy – not a Marking Policy, but a Feedback Policy, and start trialling the ideas in June and July ready for the start of the new term in September. What does this look like? What did we include? The most important was the fact that we would do less written marking and more immediate feedback or live feedback.

Staff challenged me to create a policy based on our discussions and ideas that had NO MENTION of the work marking anywhere. This does not mean we never put pen to paper in pupil books, just that we could use our professional judgement as to when would be appropriate to do so and when live feedback could be used and have more impact on teaching and learning in the lesson.

What is feedback? In our policy we agreed that feedback is an important form of communication, between the teacher and pupil, through:

  • diagnostic comments and / or a code to make improvement;
  • verbal discussion between an adult or child, or a discussion between children.

What are our reasons for providing feedback? Our policy states:

  • to recognise, encourage and reward effort and achievement and celebrate success;
  • to provide dialogue between teacher and child and provide appropriate feedback about strengths and areas to improve in their work;
  • to improve a child’s confidence in reviewing their own work and setting future targets;
  • to indicate how a piece of work could be improved;
  • to identify pupils who need additional support / more challenging work;
  • to develop quality through systematic feedback which is acted upon by the child;
  • to aid curriculum planning, teaching and learning.
Image: Shane Global

What methods of feedback are we trying? What will they look like in the classroom? Here is the list from our policy:

  • Student review: closed exercises may be reviewed by going through them together, while children indicate success and correct errors, mistakes or incorrect answers.
  • Focused Feedback: where written feedback is provided, time will be built into lessons for children to reflect on the feedback and to respond to it. This may be the whole or a section of the work – if a section has written feedback provided this will be indicated by a ‘yellow box’. The size of the yellow box is discretionary (including being open-ended) depending on aptitude and confidence of the pupil;
    • Find and fix: adults inform pupils they have several answers incorrect, and provide time for them to find and correct their mistakes;
  • Highlighting: pupils use coloured pens to highlight their work where they have shown evidence of skills according the requirements of the lesson;
  • Margin Improvements: annotation in the margin for non-negotiables using codes;
  • Live Feedback: immediate verbal feedback which is diagnostic, identifying specific areas to improve;
  • Whole-class feedback grid: when the teacher reads pupils work notes are made using a grid to highlight excellent work, problems and misconceptions

We are all really excited about our new guidelines, as we are sure it will have a positive impact of teacher workload without having a detrimental impact on pupil progress. We are all giving it a go, and even in these early stages the methods are proving to have an impact on workload. Staff have trialled the Whole Class Feedback Sheet and the new marking codes, but more importantly they are using Live Feedback in the lesson and are not expected to write the verbal feedback given in pupil books!

As Dawn Copping wrote in the ‘Eliminating unnecessary workload around marking’ report:

…marking practice that does not have the desired impact on pupil outcomes is a time-wasting burden for teachers that has to stop.

Join Kingham Primary School in this marking revolution - after tweeting this in June 2018, I had over 75 requests to share the policy (find our Whole Class Feedback sheet here). Will you join the schools developing a Feedback and NOT Marking Policy?

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