Extract: Mary Myatt gives an overview on how to reduce teacher workload

In this extract from Managing Teacher Workload, Mary Myatt discusses the overview of teacher workload and how to reduce it.

The Big Picture on workload

This chapter urges leaders to consider their overarching strategy, vision and culture in order to do things differently. Nobody has deliberately set out to increase workload. But increased it has. So what can senior leaders do to address the drivers for this and how can they find ways of cutting through anything which is not absolutely necessary? This chapter explores further the three main strands identified in the Government’s Workload Challenge, set out in the previous chapter: planning and resources, data management and marking.


First, to planning. It is essential for leaders to have conversations with colleagues about the difference between ‘lesson planning’ and ‘lesson plans’. Planning is critical and is fundamental in providing the structure and architecture for pupils’ learning. Results are better when teachers are given time to plan together on a scheme. These should identify the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of the content to be taught.

Best practice in planning starts with an overarching question, ideas for opening up the content and the things to be taught over the medium term. These constitute the big picture and framework for what is to be taught. They are the roadmap. This is a useful metaphor for thinking about the curriculum to be taught. A roadmap shows the destination, but provides a number of routes to get there. This allows for teachers’ autonomy in the delivery of the scheme as it unfolds, lesson by lesson. When good quality schemes of work are in place, they should reduce teacher workload.

The Department for Education’s workload review group on planning and resources identified planning a sequence of lessons as more important than writing individual lesson plans. So what leaders could do to support this aspect of the workload challenge is to stop asking for detailed daily lesson plans, if that is current practice. The only situation where daily lesson plans might be an expectation is when senior leaders are supporting a colleague via coaching. Here, precise planning might be needed to improve practice, in which case the plans should be prepared jointly with the senior leader as coach, as part of the larger scheme of work.

The most compelling reason for moving away from compulsory daily lesson plans is that not only are they not necessary, they can get in the way of the bigger ‘flow’ of the sequence of learning. As leaders, this might appear risky.

So, let’s be clear about why it might not be risky to do away with daily lesson plans. First of all, what do lesson plans tell senior leaders that they don’t already know? If they have an overview and indeed have had some input into some of the longer-term plans, they do not need a detailed lesson plan to tell them this. If they are honest, how many leaders read the individual lesson plans from every teacher? In a school with ten teachers and five lessons a day that would be about 250 plans to check; with 100 teachers, 2500 to check. Each week. Are any senior leaders doing this, seriously? And if they are, wouldn’t the time be better spent going in to the actual lessons to see how things are going? Not as lesson observations, or learning walks, but simply by walking about. And offering support if needed and affirmation for work well done. How much more powerful this would be, than reading all those plans, which often bear little relation to what is happening in the classroom.

Second, senior leaders might deem it too risky to do away with lesson plans because they believe that they might be needed for an inspection. Ofsted has made it clear, in its ‘mythbusting’ document for schools10, that they do not expect to see lesson plans, only evidence of planning. Apart from anything else, time is so tight on an inspection that there wouldn’t be time to read files of lesson plans.

The only thing which inspections comment on is impact – the impact of the delivery of curriculum plans on children’s learning. It would be technically possible to have perfect plans, which do not translate into meaningful practice for children in the classroom. And the danger of this is that it is possible to be seduced into thinking that the piece of paper is the work, when in fact it is the action in the classroom which is the work.

Third, senior leaders might believe it is risky to stop insisting on lesson plans as they will have less control and view of quality assurance. But this is like a restaurant checking that all the orders have been placed so that dishes can be prepared. It suggests that the paperwork is more important than the meals that eventually end up in the restaurant. Any decent restaurant will check on the final product, and tweak it to make it better, rather than thinking that the process stops at the ordering. So, for those leaders reluctant to let go of the safety net of lesson plans, they might want to trial it for half a term. Then check what difference it makes not having them. Those schools which have done this have found that the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom goes up, not down. It is a case of fewer things, done in greater depth.

Given the above, one of the recommendations in the working group’s report is that ‘senior leaders should consider the cost benefit of creating larger blocks of time for this practice to make the planning activity as productive as possible and reduce the amount of time spent by individual teachers on individual planning.’ As John Hattie says:

‘planning can be done in many ways, but the most powerful is when teachers work together to develop plans, develop common understandings of what is worth teaching, collaborate on understanding their beliefs of challenge and progress, and work together to evaluate the impact of their planning on student outcome’.

Managing Teacher Workload is written by a group of educators, each with their own chapter with advice. This extract was written by Mary Myatt, an education adviser. She works in schools talking to pupils, teachers and leaders about learning, leadership and the curriculum. She is also the author of High Challenge, Low Threat and is a TEDx speaker. You can follow Mary on Twitter @marymyatt

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