Reducing Workload in Your School: 10 Strategies for Leaders

By now, it’s common knowledge that many teachers struggle with their workload. The UK government’s teacher workload survey found that teachers and middle leaders work 4.9 hours less in 2019 than they did in 2016. However, 21% reported that workload is still a ‘very serious problem.’ A high workload can have a big impact on your whole school. It can influence teachers’ decision to leave the profession, lead to stress and anxiety, and ultimately affect pupil outcomes. So what can be done? In this blog post, school leaders can find tips, strategies for reducing workload in school. But first, why is high workload a problem?

The Effects of High Workload on Schools

The effects of high workload can be different from school to school, role to role and person to person. But it’s clear that most teachers are struggling with it. As part of the UK government’s qualitative research into teacher workload, senior leaders described it as: ‘mammoth’ and ‘relentless’. But why is it a problem?

Teacher Wellbeing

The Education Support Wellbeing Index 2020 found that 62% of education professionals described themselves as stressed. They also described having feelings of insomnia and tearfulness. Compared to the general population, teachers also experience a higher level of depression. 

What’s more, teachers are struggling to ask for help. 57% of those surveyed said they don’t feel comfortable talking about their mental health with their employer. 20% reported that they had received no support at all. 

The problem is twofold, then: it’s clear to see that teachers are disproportionately affected by mental health, but they also aren’t feeling supported too. 

Staff Retention 

To many, it may come as no surprise that 52% of teachers have considered leaving the profession due to pressures on their mental health. Specifically, 68% of those respondents cited workload as the main reason behind this. 

Hiring staff is a long and expensive process. Retaining staff is good for everyone, from leaders who can save money to children who won’t feel disrupted if their favourite teacher leaves the school.

Pupil Outcomes

When done right, reducing workload in schools can improve student outcomes. Sound too good to be true? Well, let’s take this case study as an example. Educators at Charles Dickens Primary School decided to investigate whether reducing workload would impact student outcomes. They found reducing workload had no negative consequences and, if anything, outcomes improved in some subjects. 

The study mainly focused on changing the school’s approach to marking and feedback. Instead of written feedback from a teacher, they prioritised self and peer feedback, verbal feedback in lessons, and ‘conferencing’ after the lesson. The result? Teachers saved hours of time per week (10 hours in some cases), the school retained its ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rating, and outcomes improved in maths and writing. 

Of course, this approach may not work in every classroom. But it’s a testament to the fact that reducing workload doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice outcomes. According to the authors, fewer hours marking means teachers can: “plan meaningful responses to the students’ work; they leave early to maintain their work-life balance, and they have more time and energy to spend on their professional growth.”

Marking is only part of the problem, though. Now, we turn to other actionable strategies that leaders can implement – no matter how big or small – to reduce workload in your school. 

Books, apple, coloured pencils and ABC wooden blocks
Books, apple, coloured pencils and ABC wooden blocks.

Leaders: 10 Methods for Reducing Workload in Your School

1. Build a Healthy Workplace Culture

As we’ve already covered, many teachers don’t feel like they can reach out for help if they’re struggling. One big factor that can affect this is your school culture. What kind of environment is your staff currently working in? Does it promote healthy lifestyles and a positive work-life balance?

As a school leader, you can help change the culture in your school. Think about the behaviours that you encourage and discourage. Are teachers encouraged to leave work on time? Do you make it clear that teachers should take time for themselves?

Changing your school culture won’t happen overnight. It’ll take time, patience and buy-in from your staff. But the rewards will be worth it if your staff feel safe and comfortable to reach out if they need help. 

2. Set a Good Example

Promoting a healthy work-life balance is one thing, but modelling this behaviour can be beneficial too. As a leader, your staff will look up to you and, most likely, see you as a role model. Modelling the behaviours you want to see in your staff can help to build a healthy workplace culture. 

This can involve anything, from admitting when you’re stressed, being vulnerable in front of your team members, or having conversations about non-work related activities in the staff room. Small actions like these can drastically change the way teachers think, act and feel at work.

3. Assess School Workload and How Teachers are Feeling

The statistics quoted in this blog post provide a general overview about how teachers feel in the UK. To tailor your action plan for reducing workload in your school, why not conduct a study just for your employees? This way, you can get a more granular view of how your staff are feeling, any grievances, and create a more personalised plan of action.

Teacher smiling next to a white board
Teacher smiling next to a whiteboard.

4. Create ‘Soft’ Boundaries with Communication 

Reading and responding to emails might seem like a small task, but the time spent in your inbox can really add up over the week. Of course, emails are still a vital tool for communicating with your colleagues, but it’s worth considering how and when you send these messages. The same applies to text messages or online chat rooms like Slack, too. 

Creating ‘soft’ boundaries with communication can prevent teachers from feeling overwhelmed. This doesn’t mean that you need to cease all communications after 5 p.m. We understand that some teachers may prefer to catchup on key messages in the evening, and it’s important to give your employees the flexibility to organise their day in a way that works for them. However, be mindful of sending key school updates on evenings and weekends. Doing so will help teachers understand that they don’t need to be ‘on’ 24/7. 

It all ties back to creating a culture where a good work-life balance is encouraged, and teachers aren’t expected to reply to every message immediately at all hours. It may be helpful to consider the following when you need to communicate a message:

  • Do I need to send this message now, or can it wait until tomorrow?
  • Do I expect my staff to reply? If so, do I need to make this clear in the message?
  • Is an email the best way to communicate this? Or will a quick message suffice?
  • How many messages have I sent today? Can I combine all of these messages into a few emails per week instead of multiple per day?

5. Reduce Marking

Earlier in this blog, we looked at a case study from Charles Dickens Primary School, where reducing marking helped to save teachers up to 10 hours a week. Marking is one of the main time-eating activities that contributes to high teacher workload. There are a few methods you can use to help reduce this and shift the focus to other types of feedback, such as:

  • Self and peer assessment – this not only saves teachers time, but helps children to better reflect on their own work and that of their peers. 
  • Verbal feedback in lessons – not all feedback needs to be written down. In fact, verbally providing feedback in lessons can make it seem more ‘human’ and personable.

Some schools have even started adopting a ‘no-marking policy’. It isn’t for everyone, but it’s at least worth considering. According to Twinkl: “A no marking policy eliminates the need for teachers to spend time outside of lessons writing comments in books. It means focusing on giving feedback directly to pupils during the lesson and a chance to respond to feedback quickly.

“No marking means the feedback process is integrated into teaching and learning and is immediate and impactful. Feedback is given while children are working, so they’re able to respond to it straight away and teachers identify next steps to address in the following lessons.”

6. Streamline Staff Meetings

The clichéd phrase ‘it could’ve been an email’ can apply to your school environment too. If teachers already have a lot of work to do, they’re not going to be engaged in a long meeting that’s only taking away from other activities. 

There are lots of ways to make your meetings more effective, for example:

  • Consider whether you actually need the meeting – could this be communicated another way?
  • Set an agenda – having a clear idea of what needs to be addressed will help you to steer the conversion and avoid unnecessary tangents. 
  • Keep an eye on the clock – before you start, have a clear idea (perhaps in the agenda) of how long you need to discuss each point. This way, you know when to start wrapping things up.
Two teachers planning together with their laptops and a notepad
Two teachers planning together with their laptops and a notepad.

7. Establish Clear Targets

There’s no end to the number of things that teachers could do to improve the outcomes, happiness and engagement of their class. But there’s no way that they can do everything. Establishing clear targets to monitor progress can allow them to understand what they should be focusing on and why. It can give staff members a clearer idea of what should be prioritised, and what can be left for a rainy day, thus reducing unnecessary workload.

Using the SMART formula can help with this. Targets should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. This means that the targets are aspirational but achievable, and teachers have a clear idea of what they need to do and when.

8. Manage Change Effectively 

Government guidance on change management in schools states: “Make fewer, more strategic decisions. Decide if other existing practices can be stopped or streamlined. Don’t make change for the sake of change.”

Too much change at once can be overwhelming for anyone in school. By involving staff in these decisions where possible, planning ahead of time and working together on a roadmap, you could get more buy-in and prevent staff from feeling overwhelmed. Thinking ahead may also reduce the need for short term planning later down the line. 

9. Consistency is Key for Behaviour Management 

Having a really consistent behaviour management policy and processes could also save you time in the long run. If staff know exactly what to do, where to go for support, and when to escalate issues then they’ll be able to spend less time weighing up different options. 

To focus on reducing workload in your school that comes with behaviour management, draft up your policy and processes and communicate this to your team regularly. This can help everyone in the school to streamline this aspect of their day-to-day work. 

10. Invest in Time-Saving EdTech

EdTech is a great way to automate manual processes and save teachers time. Pupil progress software can help everyone in your school: leaders, teachers, parents and pupils too. 

Teachers say that creating pupil reports can take over 35 hours to complete – the equivalent of five working days! By using software that allows you to store assessment data throughout the year, teachers can collect all of this together in a simple report at the click of a button. This way, they can focus on more impactful activities, like writing personalised comments and feedback. 

Learning Ladders allows teachers to:

  • Bring together key achievements of their pupils into a report. 
  • Save time with pre-written comments and statements. 
  • Send reports to parents quickly and easily. 

Read more about Learning Ladders’ automated pupil reports and discover how our software can help to reduce workload in your school. 

Useful Links

Want more support and guidance with reducing workload in school? Below are some useful links to help. 

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