The 7 Deadly Sins Of Workload

February 29, 2016

I think there are 7 things that schools I worked in (when I was full time) have done that made my workload excessive. I think they are all pretty common too. I would suggest any manager avoid forcing any of these on teachers.

  1. Detentions run by the teachers who set them. The difference a centrally run detention system makes is enormous. For all the excuses about “building a relationship” with kids that have behaved badly, schools that make teachers run their own detentions leave many teachers choosing between not enforcing the rules and doing hours of unpaid overtime. In my experience, these schools have very patchy discipline as a result.
  2. Excessive Meetings. Yes, things have to be decided, and CPD has to take place, but some schools actively find things to do to fill the time available for meetings up to the maximum. Why? Meetings should only happen when they serve a clear purpose and there should be an attempt to achieve that purpose in as little time as possible.
  3. Inflexible marking policies. Marking of one sort or another is always going to be a burden for teachers. But in the last few years these have gone insane. No longer is it something a teacher can do in dribs and drabs in order to maximise coverage. No longer can teachers decide what feedback (if any) would actually benefit their students based on their professional judgement. Marking has become something done 30 books at a time, in a variety of colours, for the sake of managers, not learning.
  4. Ill-timed assessments. Another one that can’t really be avoided, but can be made worse. Some schools seem to assess all year groups in the same week, leaving teachers with hundreds of tests to mark simultaneously, and often data entry to do at the same time. Often the data is barely used, because the school had no reason to collect it and the teachers were too busy to plan how to use it.
  5. Catch Up/Revision Sessions. The pressure on teachers to do unpaid lessons after school, often for students who haven’t worked in their regular lessons can often be impossible to resist. I don’t mind if this is in exchange for extra pay, or is in lieu of other lessons, or if managers who don’t teach a full timetable do this as a way to support their department. But in some schools teachers are just expected to do these as unpaid overtime every week.
  6. Inflexible homework policy. It’s good that students have work to do at home. But I’ve worked in schools where there were a maximum number of online homeworks allowed per half term, or a maximum number of homeworks that students marked themselves permitted. Homework is something where teachers should be free to be as ingenious as possible in finding ways that support learning, but don’t generate workload. And don’t get me started on schools that insist that every homework in every subject is marked with useful feedback every time.
  7. No textbooks. Not every subject has decent textbooks, but a textbook that fits the scheme of work can really save time. It used to be normal to start with the textbook and then plan for what could be done to improve on it with other resources and activities. Now, it is far more common to see teachers searching for resources for every single part of the lesson, none of which are actually more effective than a good set of questions from an old textbook. I know the anti-textbook attitudes in English schools have been criticised a lot lately, and I know there is not always a good textbook available, or within the budget, but I know of schools where new managers came in and actually binned textbooks that were being used effectively. Searching for resources online and spending hours photocopying is really not any better.


  1. perceptive – I think you have hit the nail on the head here. The trouble is, some of your solutions, such as central detentions add extra work to managers – and they *really* don’t like that. But your observation about it is correct.

  2. absolutely spot on.
    all are problems in my school to varying degrees
    how can it be that you describe my school so well having never been there?
    I expect it’s because you have identified national problems
    there is both comfort and depression knowing that it’s not just my school
    thanks for an excellent post

  3. Hear hear!

    And, to the previous commenter, central detentions don’t need to add extra work to managers— I’m entirely happy to do my turn on detention duty as a main scale teacher.

  4. Yes! Mark schemes are becoming insane. I am no longer in the classroom, but my 6 year old goes on and on about the magic purple and orange pens that her teacher is obsessed with. The kids are perplexed by them, but clearly management loves them ;-) Bless the Year 2 teacher who has to keep using them.

  5. Teachers need to look after themselves!

  6. I’m generally at one with you about this, but my observation has always been that schools which don’t insist on thorough marking are also schools in which pupils don’t progress and don’t end up doing well.

    In my current work as a private tutor, I’ve lost count of the students who have been referred to me because they don’t know how they’re doing, don’t know how to improve and have acquired hundreds of ingrained habitual errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation simply because no teacher has ever taken the time and trouble to correct their work properly or to insist that marking is read carefully and acted upon.

    However, I also quite often see pupils with exactly the same problems from schools with highly developed marking policies, because those policies only turn out to amount to the elaborate use of multi-coloured inks, without any apparent intention to tell the pupils anything useful about their work. I think a lot of schools have entirely lost sight of what marking is actually for.

  7. Agree with so many of these, I also think working walls are a major time consumer, constantly being updated by the teacher not often used by the children however!

  8. In terms of textbooks, the current slew of math textbooks in the US are generally quite bad, devoid of adequate explanations, problems that are not scaffolded properly so that the worked examples in the text do not provide proper background or preparation and a significant dearth of good word problems. I managed to find a bunch of old math textbooks by Dolciani, which were used in the 60’s and 70’s with great results. I use those as an alternative for certain topics. The students seem to like them.

  9. I disagree with all seven. But that doesn’t mean I agree with the multi-coloured pens:
    1. I want students to sit the detentions with me. This could be the chance to get to know a student better, for her to know me better, and also in my experience these small interactions often prevent further detentions.
    2. No I don’t like excessive meetings, but sadly the ones we do have are so technical that we don’t get the chance to discuss the actual matter of our job: students. Often valuable information about what works with this or that student gets passed on informally in the school corridors.
    3. If there is no consensus about marking in a school, then assessment becomes a big blob of useless data. Which defeats the purpose of trying to find out how to help students learn more effectively.
    4. Oh I wish all of my students were assessed on the same day. That way I can mark just one big batch of exams, give feedback, and it’s out of the way. Intermittent mini batches of papers can become a nightmare. Usually I need this time and peace of mind to plan my next teaching unit.
    5. All the schools I have worked in have arranged teacher timetables so that these sessions do not happen during overtime. When a student does not work in regular lesson time, there must be a reason for it? Often it is they don’t understand. I think proving these sessions to these students is both fair and right.
    6. I agree with limitations imposed to the amount of hw that is set. Also, ideally all work — lesson, home, extended or whatever should receive some kind of feedback. There are ways of doing this so that it’s not always the teacher doing written feedback for every bit of work.
    7. I’ve binned a couple textbooks myself. I seldom use textbook questions. When teachers are subject specialists, there is no need to bring textbooks to the classroom. As subject specialists we aim to use time effectively, not to save time.

  10. […] I think there are 7 things that schools I worked in (when I was full time) have done that made my workload excessive. I think they are all pretty common too. I would suggest any manager avoid forcing any of these on teachers. Detentions run by the teachers who set them. The difference a centrally run…  […]

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