Performance related pay policies are starting to unravel…
Performance related pay progression for school teachers has been around since 2014. Over the next year or so I think we are going to see this policy quietly unravel.
Lots of teachers who were starting off at the bottom of the main pay scale back in 2014 will likely have now received their final performance related pay increase. All the problems with performance related pay will now start bubbling up to the surface.
What problems? Surely performance related pay is a good thing? If people do a good job, they should be paid more, right?
That’s the superficial and trite justification for performance related pay rolled out by the DfE at the time of its introduction.
The DfE and the School Teachers Pay Review Board trotted out lots of “evidence” supporting the introduction of performance related pay. But the evidence they relied on fell broadly into two categories. Some of it demonstrated that performance related pay didn’t work at all; or wasn’t really evidence at all, but just anecdotes about how the private sector used performance related pay (STRB 2012, Chapter 2).
What was glaringly missing from this evidence, for anyone (like me) with a cursory knowledge of the field, was the academic research into performance related pay.
There is a large body of research looking at what happens when you pay people more if they do a good job. And that research tends to show that the more money at stake, the worse people perform.
For example, Professor Daniel Ariely at MIT has carried out many experiments which all fall into some variation on this theme: subjects are asked to perform a challenging intellectual task and are paid money if they perform that task well. A control group does the same task, but is just paid for their time regardless of how well they perform.
In many different variations of these experiments, people tend to do worse if their reward depends on how well they perform. Even in rural India, where the amount of money on offer for top performance was equivalent to six months of household expenditure, people did better if they were just paid a fixed amount for their time. You’d think that if you offered someone a small fortune for completing some demanding cognitive task to a certain standard, they would try really hard to earn that money. But no: if you just pay people a fixed amount to do the tasks, they do it better than those who are offered a huge reward for doing it well.
So what’s the explanation for the performance-related pay results?
One explanation is that having a lot of money at stake creates too much stress on the participant and they just perform less well. If they can relax knowing the money is guaranteed, even if there is less on offer than the “performance pay” group is getting, they do a better job of the task.
Does this sound familiar? Teachers under stress? Linking pay to performance surely increases teacher stress, even for the best teachers. And that might well make them perform less well in the classroom.
A more nuanced explanation is that once you make money the prime incentive, you lose the other incentives which were there before. The greatest reward for completing challenging work is really the intrinsic satisfaction it creates. Whether that’s solving a scientific conundrum or getting all of your bottom set in maths to pass their GCSE. But once you start introducing a financial reward for doing a better job, you lose the intrinsic reward.
I think that’s what we are likely to see soon. There is a cohort of teachers out there who have had five years steadily working up the main pay scale. Each year they’ll have been told that they have earned extra money because they have been doing a great job. Next year they’ll be again told they’ve done a great job. But they won’t be paid any more for it.
This probably won’t lead to newspaper headlines and strikes and resignations. It is very hard to complain loudly about people supposedly being paid more for doing a better job. But I think school leaders will start to see quiet discontent seeping into staff rooms in schools around the country, as this performance related pay policy slowly unravels.
Bruce Greig is an entrepreneur and school governor. He served as CoG through two Ofsted inspections and four headteachers. He set up SchoolStaffSurveys.com after discovering how enlightening an anonymous staff survey can be and decided to make it easy for every school to run them. He has previously built businesses in property maintenance and technology sectors.
There probably isn’t a bigger topic in teaching right now than the recruitment and retention crisis. NQTs and experienced teachers alike are leaving in droves, largely down to one of two main issues, as cited by teaching unions: pay and excessive workload. In this article, I’m going to try to explain what I think could be a solution to the teacher wellbeing issue.
It’s not a set of “sticking plasters” (thanks go to @mrbakerphysics, @Mr_JTyers and @JamesTheo, amongst others, for your input on Twitter), but it’s more a holistic way of addressing what it’s like to be a teacher in your school. It encompasses everything that a school can (or should) ‘control’ and hopefully will provide a blueprint to start useful discussions about how to improve and maintain teacher wellbeing, so that our schools can attract and recruit like we used to do in the not-so-distant past.
Simply having an extra couple of staff nights out, free biscuits or a staff yoga session isn’t enough (even if they do add some fun to your week).
Seriously though, we have to think bigger and confront the main reason for the reduction in teacher wellbeing: workload and the unnecessary and excessive pressure that comes with it. I’ve written about aspects of it before. You can read them here and here.
What’s Really Important…
The main reason I wanted to write this piece was not to help recruit and retain staff.
My concern is that many colleagues across schools throughout the UK are now starting to crack. A brief look through my Twitter timeline regularly shows people taking to the internet to share their fragile emotional states, whereas a few years ago they were just sharing selfies and photos of their dinner. Things have gotten worse and for the sake of peoples’ physical and mental health, we can’t afford to spend any more time navel-gazing before putting it right.
I have to say though, I’m not an expert. My own work-life balance is often less than optimal, despite what I try to implement. But that’s precisely the issue. I, as an individual teacher, can’t do this on my own. Many of the workload problems that I face are beyond my control. They are systemic or boil down to decisions that others have taken.
So, what can we do then?
Successful Teacher Wellbeing Ideas
In all the conversations I’ve had with teachers, these are by far the most popular responses:
Time given to share departmental planning
Reduced number of data drops
No more written reports
A clear and consistently followed behaviour policy
Replace morning briefings or lunchtime meetings with an email bulletin or an online noticeboard
Email ban between 5pm and 7am
Social activities, eg fitness classes, nights out, ‘secret friends’ gift giving, etc
Supportive SLT, who take the pressure off at least as often as they put pressure on
What do these ideas have in common? Well, most of them reduce workload. However, these decisions tend to be outside of a typical teacher’s control. They are policy decisions that are either put in place or rejected/ignored by school leaders. Fortunately, school leaders (as far as I can see) are beginning to implement such ideas and share their positive experiences with others. With any luck (and by sharing this with school leaders yourself) the tide should turn a little quicker.
Ultimately, it has to be prioritised by senior leaders and headteachers. Not everyone is fortunate to work somewhere that takes notice of such things. The results are predictable. Staff sickness levels increase and those staff eventually leave, often with a view to ruining the school’s reputation on the way out, making it difficult to recruit. It’s also a false economy to put teachers under this stress, in order to save money. A multiple of the money saved is then spent on external cover agencies. It’s unnecessary, ludicrous and potentially even illegal in some cases.
Successful Schools Who Address Teacher Wellbeing: What Do You Do?
As teacher wellbeing is still quite a fledgeling concept, there isn’t yet a lot of data to draw upon, beyond the odd anecdote. So, send me your anecdotes! I’d love to know what teacher wellbeing ideas your school has implemented successfully (you can stay anonymous if you like). The more we share these ideas, the more they will become a prominent feature of the education system and the less we will have to rely on “luck”, when moving between schools.
What Can Teachers Do Themselves To Improve Their Own Wellbeing?
The video below gives some interesting insights into how we as professionals can look after ourselves. What do you think?
Teachers: Are You Too Busy? (Then Reduce Your Workload!)
“Reduce teacher workload!” can be heard up and down the country, in staffrooms and online. The truth is it’s one of the simplest things that schools can do to help retain staff and maintain their wellbeing.
That being said, however, some schools aren’t doing all they can to remove unnecessary burdens. Those who have done so, enjoy rave reviews on Twitter and elsewhere, which of course doesn’t do them any harm when it comes to recruiting and retaining excellent staff. The best staff know their worth and will inevitably leave the school earlier than they would’ve done if they feel that another school would trust them and let them just get on with the real job of teaching. Even the Department for Education has begun to take note of the issue, identifying some key areas where schools can reduce teacher workload.
Some of the ideas I’ve listed to below are things that individual teachers and departments can do to reduce teacher workload. Others require Senior Leadership Teams to make brave decisions. But they are decisions that pay dividends for schools with the courage to take those simplest of steps. Take a look and see how many you could decide to do right now.
Seven Ways To Reduce Teacher Workload
1. Collaborative Planning
This is a no-brainer. Too many teachers get caught up in the trap of creating their own resources when others have already created ones that they could use. One way to avoid this is by deciding which parts of the course that you will resource and who will resource the other areas. This way (providing that everyone pulls their weight), a broad and deep course can become much more manageable and will take much less time to plan for.
When planning collaboratively, you should take care to establish a common set of standards for the resources, so that no matter whose resources are used, students are guaranteed consistency of quality (and so that no teacher has to work harder than a similar colleague, unless of course, they’ve agreed to do so).
Standards you might want to discuss with colleagues include:
The format of resources used (presentations, worksheets, online content, wider reading, homework)
Assessment tasks, mark schemes, success criteria, etc
Permissions to edit resources
Potential enrichment activities such as trips, guest speakers, clubs and competitions
2. Ditch Written Reports
This one is controversial for some schools, but not where I work. We ditched written reports as we didn’t see the value in them when the same information was given throughout the year in data reports to parents and in a yearly parents evening. The hours that were saved by not having to write reports, especially those with generic or copy-and-paste comments (don’t pretend you haven’t done it!) mean that not only is teaching workload reduced but staff morale increases. A huge part of the aim to reduce teacher workload is not that teachers don’t want to put in the hours, it’s that often they are forced to put hours into things that make no discernible difference. This is a quick solution that, in my experience, has absolutely no downside.
3. Reduce Data Drops
Many schools still require teachers to submit assessment data too frequently. Some teachers I’ve spoken to (thankfully at other schools) are required to submit assessment data once every half-term. That’s six times a year. Per class! I would ask why that is necessary.
As I’ve written before, we know that the progress made by students isn’t linear. So if a data point showed that a student had dipped, then that often means nothing at all. It’s the pattern over time that counts. If a student had dipped in their efforts or attainment, either in class or in homework tasks, the teacher doesn’t need a classful of assessment data to intervene, they just need a short conversation with the student. Reduce the data drops and you also free up time that was used analysing instead of planning better, or giving feedback, both of which are far more useful. Stop “weighing the pig”, just fatten it up, as you might say.
4. Promote Student Independence
The ability of students to work and learn independently is vital. Not only for courses that demand ever greater breadth and depth of knowledge but in life too. For too long, teachers have been forced to spoon-feed students in order to ensure they gain good grades. This can’t go on. Apart from the fact that it doesn’t do the students any favours in preparing them for life beyond school, it is completely unnecessary. We need independent and resilient learners.
Instead of giving students the answers immediately, you could set them a wider reading list, as I’ve done in Religious Studies and Law. The list of sources includes hand-picked textbook chapters, press articles, YouTube videos, and academic journals, covering the main themes to be studied over the year, broken down into termly sections. I show students where the resources are kept, but I ask them to find, read and comment on each source themselves, ideally in advance of the lesson where it will be taught. This Flipped Learning approach makes such a difference to students of all attainment levels and can be customised for any student to access.
Oh, and you only have to create your list once. It pays off for years as students become more confident in their own resourcefulness and require less and less guidance from you. Click here to read my Three Top Tips for Independent Learners.
5. Only Create Evergreen Resources
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Just modify and refine it. When choosing a topic to create resources for, make sure that you would be happy teaching this topic in this way for the next five years, regardless of who you are teaching. That way, once you’re planning is done, you can “bank” that planning time next year, the year after and the year after that, etc, in order to focus on something else of use. (This includes valuable family time or having a well-earned rest!)
Also, to ensure that your resources are suitable for next year, don’t just make them specific to your current class. Include a range of activities that you would use with a different class too so that you have to do as little tinkering as possible next year.
6. Give Whole Class Feedback
I mark a lot of essays. I used to frequently lose evenings and weekends every month. That was a time that I could (and should) have spent with my family and I regret not moving to this system much earlier. Here you can read more on why I think Marking Doesn’t Work.
When giving feedback on a classful of work, quickly read through a number of answers, without giving written feedback on them. Instead, jot down on a PowerPoint slide a list of common mistakes, misconceptions and missing pieces of content. Then, read through each piece of work and only comment on things that are unique to that piece. You will find that this reduces workload and it also provides you with a “response to feedback” resource for your class when you hand their work back. They can then learn to look for errors, with the guidance you’ve produced. With enough practice, they will need the teacher less and less, as they develop the ability to self-edit, rather than waiting for lots of feedback.
To enhance this further, you can use the whole class feedback slide you produced the following year. This will be used to prepare your new class attempting the task. That way, students should make fewer mistakes and which reduces the number of comments needed in your feedback.
7. Reduce Meetings To An Email
Do you ever find yourself meeting with colleagues to discuss something, only to find that the meeting took an hour and the issue could just as easily have been resolved via an email? Well in future, reduce teacher workload by using email instead of physical meetings in the first place. It won’t work for everything and some things are done far better in person, but it works for a lot more than you might realise.
Feel free to share your experiences of reducing teacher workload below. Any extra tips will be much appreciated!
Oh, and share this post too. Hopefully, your teacher friends won’t be too busy to read it.
This week I want to share with you my top 10 education blogs. I read these when I want to be inspired, to deepen my understanding, or for a quick guide on how to do something. Education blogs are a fantastic way to develop your pedagogical knowledge, learn new ways to deliver lessons and to get your head around educational research and policy. Not only that but by commenting on the posts, you can join a community of teachers (including the author) who can debate, challenge and collaborate on the things that matter the most to you and your students.
These top 10 education blogs have been absolutely crucial to my professional development over the past few years and I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today without them. In particular, they’ve helped me cut down on unnecessary tasks, thus reducing my workload. Click here to read more on how to solve the teacher workload problem.
My top 10 education blog list (which is in no particular order) comprises some that you will probably have heard of and some less well-known ones too. Do what I’ve done and subscribe to them all, so that you never miss a post.
TOP TIP: Follow these bloggers on Twitter too. You’ll read a lot more than just what they put in their posts! You can follow me on Twitter @guruteaching.
Last time you were observed teaching a lesson, did your observer focus on ‘measuring progress’ in their feedback? What exactly did they mention? Did you believe them? Did you feel proud or ashamed of the feedback? Did either of you ‘grade’ the quality of the teaching or even the teacher? Was the amount or rate of learning measured? Was the observation a positive, or even a useful experience? Teachers across many schools have had experiences such as these. It is one of the factors contributing to a crisis in recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers across many countries. But it is a factor that can be eliminated very simply. Ban lesson observations from discussions on student progress. They simply do not work.
What does ‘progress’ even mean?
In this post, I hope to convince you that measuring progress in lesson observations is a waste of time. There, I said it. Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Yes. Why? Because students in every school are at risk of a second-rate education. This is due largely to teachers altering their lessons to ensure short-term success within a lesson, at the expense of better progress over the long-term.
There, I said it. Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Yes. Why? Because students in every school are at risk of a second-rate education. This is due largely to teachers altering their lessons to ensure short-term success within a lesson, at the expense of better progress over the long-term.
This problem is exacerbated even further during lesson observations. In many schools, the ‘rate’ or ‘amount’ of progress within the lesson is still being ‘measured’ by SLT and external inspectors alike. However, the problem with aiming for short-term success is that the long-term needs of the students are put aside. This is simply for the sake of teachers trying to demonstrate excellent progress in front of observers. After all, nobody wants to be judged as anything less than brilliant! Observations are a snapshot, a small-scale sample. They simply cannot be used as evidence of student progress.
Fortunately, many high-performing schools are taking on board ever-increasing levels of educational research, in order to raise the achievement of students. Organisations such as the Sutton Trust have researched what factors make the greatest difference to learning. Schools have developed Learning Improvement Plans in response to this research. Now it’s time for Senior Leadership Teams (SLT) to examine whether or not lesson observations are useful enough in improving student progress, to justify the problems they also generate.
So, what’s wrong with measuring progress?
To really understand this question, it’s important to go back to first principles and to ask these fundamental questions:
What is the purpose of education?
What role should teachers play in education?
What role should students play in their own education?
What else matters?
1. What is the purpose of education?
The ‘purpose’ of education, in my mind, comes down to one simple idea. Education should aim to provide a person with the knowledge and skills to ensure they are able to flourish and succeed once they have left education. In order to achieve this aim, educators should measure progress. But only when it helps education over the long-term. We should evidence the development of students’ knowledge, but there are far better methods than old-fashioned lesson observations. Monitoring student folders is far more accurate. It can’t be staged and it allows teachers to teach in their own way, using their own professional judgement to guide them.
Artificial situations have also been created by teachers, in order to ‘demonstrate’ their own teaching ‘skills’. But a teacher’s aim is to promote learning as their first priority! The cause of this mismatch in priorities is that in too many cases teachers feel they must ‘perform’ to the latest standards, or use the latest methods ‘preferred’ by external inspectors or SLT.
Finally, too many teachers provide students with everything they need in order to pass an exam. This can be useful, but only insofar as it equips the students with the skills they need after leaving school. However, students are often so spoon-fed that they don’t know how to learn or how to solve problems even though they managed to achieve good grades in their exams.
A good education system should create resilient problem-solvers. A focus on measuring progress, however, often makes teachers less likely to spend enough time on challenging tasks. This is because the task may not provide positive ‘progress’ data in time for the termly data-window when assessment results are submitted. Instead, many teachers favour shorter and less rigorous tasks, where they can demonstrate repeated intervention, rather than allowing students to learn resilience.
2. What role should teachers play in education?
There is often a debate about whether the teacher should be the ‘sage on the stage’ or the ‘guide on the side’. I don’t think it matters, so long as you change it up now and again. Students need both direct instruction and the freedom to tackle things in their own way. That way, they benefit from having an expert in the room and from having the space to be creative in how they learn. A focus on measuring progress in a lesson can sometimes interfere with this process, creating unnecessary constraints on the structure of lessons.
Teachers should be able to teach in whatever way they like, so long as by the end of the course, students are able to demonstrate that they can achieve well in the exam and go on to lead successful lives. After all, isn’t this what matters most to our students?
3. What role should students play in their own education?
Learning how to learn is arguably the most important skill a student can learn at school. It happens when we give students a variety of levels of challenge, over time, with varying levels of support. Independent learning is crucial, whether through homework or through students’ own wider reading around the subject. Students often overlook their own role in their own education. Therefore it is vital that we teach students explicitly about their own role in the learning process.
Unfortunately, though, students often overlook their own role in their education. Therefore it is vital that we teach them explicitly about this. I would even argue that it should be done before you begin teaching subject topics. That way, it won’t be viewed by the students as a simplistic reaction to a badly completed homework, or as a trendy add-on following a course we’ve been on.
One consequence of creating a culture of independent learning is that some students will do it extremely well. Sometimes my own students will turn up to a lesson, having taught themselves the topic at home.
4. What else matters?
Teachers are in education for the long haul. So are students. Observers should be too, but often they become distracted by short-term thinking, rather than planning for the future. The consequence is that lesson observations are added to the workload of teachers and SLT.
However, a quick cost-benefit analysis shows that the number of hours put into lesson observation schedules does not make enough positive difference to long-term teaching, to justify the expense. Teachers are worn out. SLT are worn out. We can’t really use the ‘data’ gathered as it doesn’t really measure progress accurately. Our paperwork is then filed away for external inspection teams. This is so that SLT can at least be seen to have tried to monitor and make an impact on student progress.
Meanwhile, lessons are taught with ‘education’ as a secondary priority.
But there is one last nail in the coffin of lesson observations: external inspectors now take less and less account of what they see in lesson observations when making judgements on progress. Sir Michael Wilshaw, an experienced headteacher and the head of Ofsted (at the time of writing), has frequently bemoaned the way that many teachers feel they ought to measure progress, often several times per lesson and especially during inspection visits. Bite-sized chunks of learning are used too often, at the expense of students taking their time on more challenging tasks. I mentioned this earlier, but you can read more about his experience in this Telegraph article.
In essence, Wilshaw views the process of measuring progress as a much more long-term one. Progress ‘measurements’ should take into account long-term data trends and evidence of students making progress over time. The individual lesson observation plays such a superficial role in the measurement of progress, that we might as well abandon it altogether.
So there you have it. If you want to measure progress then leave lesson observations out of it. They are quite frankly, not fit for purpose.
If you want to know more (from a true expert on the subject) then I recommend the brilliant book Making Good Progress (Amazon affiliate link) by Daisy Christodoulou.
Here, she gives practical advice in simple terms, based on extensive research. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better book on this subject. It’s had a huge impact on the way I teach and I know I’d be a poorer teacher without having read it.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Leave a reply below or send me a message @guruteaching on Twitter.
What would you do if you could reduce marking time?
I’ve spent far too much time marking work. So have you. All teachers should reduce marking time. Why? Because when we reduce marking time, we can spend more time doing other things that either make us better teachers or just better people in general. Students automatically benefit from either of those results, as they are then educated by someone who is less tired, more patient and has more life experiences to draw from in lessons, due to all the leisure time they have freed up. Sound good? Then read on…
Since I specialise in essay-based subjects, the marking of each piece is often extremely time-consuming and it can really drain my brain. There’s nothing more soul-destroying than finishing my day teaching, only to glance at my pile of marking and realise that I still have hours to go. This can’t continue. Heavy teacher workload is bad for morale and my marking has in the past been put off for just long enough that when students finally receive the feedback, the work has been forgotten.
Remember I mentioned about the importance of feedback being timely when I wrote about it a few weeks ago? If you missed it, then just click here.
So, after many months of trying out different ways to reduce my workload, without reducing the quality of my teaching, I’ve settled on a simple solution that works well for me but most importantly, my students.
I’ve managed to reduce marking time by several hours per week!
This post is a simple guide to marking. It won’t increase workload, is easy to implement and the students benefit from it more than so-called ‘traditional’ methods of marking. It can be used instead of comment-based marking, or as a complimentary method (which is how I use it).
I use this method as a complementary method to comment-based marking as there is still a place for that. However, students sometimes need very specific advice. When that is the case, this method may not always be the best fit. I’ll leave that to your professional judgement – you know your students best!
So, what is my magical method? Using a MARKING CODE to reduce marking time.
What is a marking code?
I often end up writing the same or very similar comments over and over again. By using a code to represent the most common comments, I’ve saved myself a lot of time. The codes that I use are pretty generic, but you can tailor them to specific marking criteria. Sometimes, this enables students to make more progress. Again, I’ll leave that up to you!
The marking code is simple. All you do is write an abbreviation of a comment instead of writing the whole comment each time. For example, instead of writing “evaluate the strengths of this argument” you could just write “ev st”. So long as the student understands what your abbreviation means, they will be able to act on it and improve their performance.
To help my students understand the codes I’ve written on their work, I have created a code sheet which they can stick into their books and folders, to refer to when responding to feedback. This sheet contains the most common codes I use. When I’ve used codes that aren’t on the sheet, as they are very specific to the task completed, I plan a “responding to feedback” activity in lesson time, where I explain the new codes and give students the opportunity to respond to the feedback there and then.
My marking code
My students have found my codes to be just as useful as having longer comments written down. However, in some cases, my codes have actually been better any comment I could have written. This is because my students are forced to think for themselves about what would improve their work, rather than having me literally spell it out for them. A further consequence of this is is that my students have also become far more independent and self-aware. In turn, this has led to them being able to produce much better quality work later in the course, as they are able to anticipate the codes that I might mark their work with. They have become better writers and are able to self-edit as they go along.
Codes I use to reduce marking time
Sp – Spelling error
Gr – Grammatical error
P – Create new paragraph
Exp – Explain this further
Eg – Add an example
Sch – Add a scholar’s view
Ev St – Evaluate the strengths of this argument
Ev W – Evaluate the weaknesses of this argument
Comp – Compare this with an alternative viewpoint
WR – Show evidence of wider reading
Con – Make connections with other elements of the course
Conc – Add a conclusion
How will this decrease my existing workload?
Use these codes to reduce marking time INSTEAD of writing comments or long-winded feedback paragraphs. That way, you will spend less time putting pen to paper. If you think that students might not fully understand your codes, then spend five minutes in a follow-up lesson to help them understand. That five minutes in a lesson is far shorter than the extra thirty minutes you might have spent, essentially writing the exact some things down in full sentences. Better still, each time you use the codes, students will become more and more familiar with them. Consequently, you will spend less and less time in lessons going through feedback.
Now over to you
I’ve already used the codes to reduce marking time and improve my workload. Will you do the same? Perhaps you have an even better system? Either way, I’d love to know your thoughts. As usual drop me a tweet or leave a comment!
I originally wrote this to my students, but on reflection, it works just as well for teachers, or anyone else with a heavy workload of any kind. This week I’ve written about the Pareto Principle. Pareto was an Italian economist who noticed that 20% of the population owned 80% of the land. He also noticed that 20% of his peapods were responsible for 80% of the peas grown in his garden. It’s a principle also observed in other fields too, such as in sport (20% of your training is responsible for 80% of your gains) and in business (80% of your revenue is generated by 20% of your customers, etc). I intend to apply the Pareto Principle to solve the problem of teacher workload.
The 80/20 split isn’t perfectly accurate. In fact, it’s often anecdotal, sometimes misunderstood and in many cases, it’s difficult to measure at all. But the accuracy of the 80/20 split isn’t important. What IS important is the recognition that some activities are more likely to boost your success than others. The crucial “20%” tasks should be prioritised over the less crucial “80%” ones.
My workload experience
Observation of my own workload over the past year shows that 80% of my success is down to 20% of my workload. This seems like an easy thing to say and a difficult thing to measure, but just take stock of some of the tasks that you and I, as teachers, have completed over the past year:
Organised and delivered extra-curricular activities
Made phone calls home or met with students’ parents
Filled in data tables
Attended Open Evenings
Compiled student reports
Helped draft university applications
Helped with students’ job applications
Attended professional development sessions
All of these activities are valuable. They all have a place. However, the Pareto Principle asks which of these activities contributed MOST to the academic success of students (our main goal). This activity is where we should focus most of our attention. This activity is priority number one. Our other activities can often wait, or could perhaps even be removed from the list, without a decline in results.
So, where is the 80/20 in teaching workload?
When I’ve looked at the outcomes for my students, essentially in exam scores, they perform better on questions where I’ve spent more time planning detailed lessons which not only explore the main topic areas but also discuss the subtle nuances surrounding them. When I’ve taken extra time to cater for the range of students in the class, I pre-emptively ask myself questions about why they might struggle on a given task. Once I’ve identified this challenge, I’m able to implement strategies to deal with it before the problem occurs in the lesson. By the end, all students are able to demonstrate exceptional progress, regardless of their various starting points and personal barriers to learning.
Second to planning is feedback (but not always written feedback). I’ve posted about this before, so click here to find out more. After that, the other activities I listed above play only a relatively small part in raising achievement. These are all Marginal Gains areas that I’ve mentioned in a previous post. They are the extra things that you can do that may not make much difference on their own, but collectively can change an entire grade. I love the Marginal Gains theory, but it must be in balance with Pareto’s 80/20 Principle, otherwise teacher workload becomes unbearable and unrealistic.
My reason for implementing Pareto’s teacher workload solution?
I want to apply the Pareto Principle to the workload experienced by teachers, because, let’s face it, we need help.
Recruitment and retention of teaching staff, both in the UK and in many other countries is at an all-time low. A major reason for this is that heavy workload dominates teachers’ lives, often impacting upon physical and mental wellbeing. This cannot go on, it’s morally indefensible, lacks long-term strategy (just watch the increasing drop-out rate for newly qualified teachers) and is a completely unrealistic ideology.
I know this is controversial, perhaps even political. But my aim here is simply to ask an important question. Teachers only have a finite amount of time to deliver an outstanding education. Teachers also have families and children of their own. They also have limited levels of physical and mental endurance.
We are already stretched to breaking point by our existing workload and more work is being added.
Q: What activities should we remove from our workload list?
A: Anything that doesn’t directly IMPROVE the quality of the work produced by students.
We want the best for students. We want our schools to be successful. We want to enjoy our own lives too (even if that seems unreasonable to some policy-makers). But above all, if teachers suffer, then the standard of education does too. If education suffers, then communities, businesses and individual people suffer.
So, what’s next?
I’ll be focusing more and more of my attention on planning extremely high-quality sequences of lessons. I’ll let you know how I get on!
I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Also, please SHARE this article with any teacher you know.
Teacher workload is the biggest issue affecting teacher wellbeing, as well as teacher recruitment and retention. Only together can we fix it!
It consumed every evening and at least one day of the weekend. The workload was unbearable. I had no life and the cycle repeated itself every week until the summer holidays. I hated marking.
Oh, and by the way, it made no difference!
I was ticking and flicking, leaving comments that were far too generic and the marking often went unnoticed or unacknowledged by the students. So, I’ve stopped. Or at least, I’ve stopped doing what I was doing. Now, my marking is less frequent but makes a much greater difference to the progress of my students.
I’ve trialled a few different methods of marking and feedback (they aren’t always the same thing!) to a wide range of classes from KS3 to KS5. I’ve settled, for now, on the one that appears to make the biggest difference, whilst taking the least amount of time to implement. My classes are making better progress and I have my life back!
How to mark and still have a life
Decide why you are marking in the first place
It isn’t agreed by all educators what the purpose of marking is. Some argue it is to point out where the student is going wrong and guiding them back to where they should be going. Some argue it is to build up a relationship between the teacher and the students so that the teacher can understand better how to support them in class. Others think that marking is a way of showing to parents and school inspectors that teachers are paying attention to the work produced by students. Recently, Ofsted has begun using evidence from marked books and folders as a better judgement of progress than lesson observations.
My view is that marking is one method we can use to cause an improvement in student performance. It isn’t the only method; forms of feedback other than traditional marking can be much more effective, e.g. immediate verbal feedback (one of the most significant drivers of improvement in my experience). It is the ‘causal’ relationship between the marking and the improvement which is the key point here.
If marking doesn’t ’cause’ improvement, then either change it or abandon it entirely.
As teachers, we are sometimes slow to abandon practices that don’t yield fruit immediately. We see value in playing the long game. However, we can also fall into the trap of mistaking the ‘long game’ for plain old-fashioned ‘laziness’.
Question: Are we really assessing our methods over time, or are we just unwilling to change our method and hoping that things will improve?
Only mark work that will significantly help your students achieve their goal
Some work should be marked and other work shouldn’t. We should get students to do both types of work, as they serve different purposes. However, we also need to distinguish between both types of work when planning our lessons. Otherwise, our lessons risk becoming too formulaic, may lack creativity and will fail to engage at least some of the students.
To decide which work to mark, ask this question: “What does the student need to be able to do by the end of the course?”
The work should (only?)* be marked if it shows:
the student adding to or improving a skill that they need to be able to master
the student’s understanding of a concept, story, method, etc that they need to be able to explain
the student’s detailed analysis, application or evaluation of a theory that they need to be able to argue
The work (perhaps?)* shouldn’t be marked if it shows:
Repetition of previously marked work (with nothing added or amended)
Basic consolidation of understanding and which may be below the student’s ‘true potential’ (I hate this phrase but we all use it)
skills, knowledge, etc that doesn’t help students in their pursuit of the goals of the course (why would you be doing these tasks anyway?)
*In teaching, nuance is everything – you know when an exception can be made here!
You must give feedback quickly
Students who receive marked work long after they handed it in are less likely to engage with the feedback comments. Make sure that you return their work in a timely manner, so that they can still remember the topic clearly. Immediate feedback has been shown to make the biggest difference to students. The longer you leave it, the less difference your marking will make.
Only make comments that will significantly help students achieve their goal
Generic comments like ‘great effort’ and ‘more detail needed’ are only useful up to a point. They tell the student in a vague way how you feel about their work. However, they do not give any specifics about what to do to rectify any mistakes or omissions. There are different schools of thought on this. We can either go the ‘spoon-feeding’ way and tell our students exactly what they should have done differently. This can include re-writing sentences or adding content that students failed to include, for example. However, this can be time-consuming. For an easier way, read this post on how to implement a marking code, to reduce marking time.
Alternatively, we can encourage more independence in our students by giving them some indication of what they should do, but without the specifics of how to do it or what it should look like. I use a mixture of both but tend towards the latter. Over the years, I’ve found with my classes that if they come to rely on specifics from me, then over time they lose the ability to solve problems for themselves further down the line.
Ensure that students respond to the marking
When students respond to marking it accelerates their progress. When students don’t respond to marking, their progress will be limited. Responding to feedback also leads to higher levels of confidence over time. But not only that, it helps you see more easily what a fantastic difference your interventions are making in their education. Since we are all here to make a difference, maybe this will be why you would move to the marking system I’ve adopted. Another benefit: you’ll have more time for a social life (remember that?). But that’s not all.
You may even learn to love marking. Really.
My personal marking policy may be controversial, it might already be in use by you and your team, or it may seem arbitrary and confusing. Either way, I always appreciate constructive feedback.
Marginal Gains: Achieve Olympic Success in the Classroom!
This week’s post on Marginal Gains is a short but highly practical one that you can use with your students. You could use it as a starter task in each of the first lessons with your new classes.
I take my inspiration today from Sir David Brailsford, the man behind the incredible success of the British Cycling team. When he took over Team Sky back in 2009 he set himself the goal of achieving success in the Tour de France within five years. His philosophy, achieving success through marginal gains, was to take every aspect of a cyclist’s life and make a 1% improvement in each of those aspects. This included training methods, nutrition, technology, clothing, etc as you would expect. But he took it even further, looking at things like making sure that the team members had the best possible pillow to sleep on, monitoring how much sleep they got, spending time visualising success and a whole host of other daily habits. He even had the team learn how to ‘properly’ wash their hands, cutting down risks of infection, which could have led to illness and therefore underperformance.
Each of the things that Brailsford tried to improve by 1% would have made a negligible difference on its own. However, when added up over a long period of time, these marginal gains not only led to improved levels of progress on the track but a complete dominance of the sport. Team Sky achieved their Tour de France success within three years, not five. Added to that, British Cycling has amassed a significant number of Olympic medals at London 2012 and now at Rio 2016.
A question to my students at the start of this year:
What can you improve by 1% in order to make a significant difference to your learning over the next year?
I’ll be getting my students to come up with their own suggestions first and to discuss just how much of a difference they will make to learning, over the course of a year. Then I’ll add in the suggestions below:
Go to bed earlier
Drink more water
Eat less junk food
Eat more healthy food
Turn screens off for an hour before bed
Spend 30 minutes revising each week, even if you don’t have a test coming up
Spend 5 minutes at the start of each week organising your workspace
Write a to-do list at the start of each week and complete it
Spend some time improving your physical fitness
Spend 5 minutes organising your files each week
Spend 5 minutes speaking to your teacher on how you could improve your next assessment
Spend 5 minutes speaking to your parents about what you achieved last week – positive thoughts
read a daily motivational quote to help develop resilience in tough situations
Read a book for fun to stimulate your imagination
Listen to a podcast on a topic related to your subjects
Keep a weekly or daily journal, related to your learning in school – be honest and periodically read back over previous entries
Follow some academically useful Twitter accounts
This task is a nice target setting exercise for the beginning of the year and once completed you can revisit student responses to see how far they have stuck to their plans. Keep the results, or even display them in your classroom!
What About Us Teachers?
Teachers are really busy. All of the time. That makes it difficult to justify spending extra time looking for ways to find another marginal gain. So, free up your time! Here are Seven Ways To Reduce Teacher Workload. There. Now you can spend that extra time planning, giving feedback, or better still, having a well-earned rest.
Flipped Learning is how we should all teach, all of the time. This is a bold claim, but I mean it sincerely. Not because I know it all (I really don’t!) and not because other methods don’t work (they do!). The simple aim of Flipped Learning is to ‘flip’ delivery of content, creating more independent students. Less challenging tasks are completed outside of the classroom, where there is less support available from the teacher. More challenging tasks are completed within the classroom, where there is more support available from the teacher. Independent learning becomes more embedded, student engagement increases and progress over time speeds up. Oh, and the best part is that it reduces teacher workload.
Flipped Learning has been around for a long time, but many of us haven’t thought to utilise it properly. Instead, we focus on a more traditional method of teaching. Teachers often deliver basic-level content then set a more complex task for homework that builds upon the activity from that lesson. The homework task is often difficult, pushing the students to their limits. After all, we do want our students to be challenged! However, little Jimmy returns the next day and says he hasn’t completed his homework as it was too hard. Weeks go on and the gap widens between those who are more-able and those who are less-able.
So, back to little Jimmy…
Solution 1: Provide little Jimmy with a more detailed set of instructions for each homework task?
Solution 2: Provide little Jimmy with a different task to the rest of the class?
Solution 3: Assume little Jimmy was lazy, tell him off and don’t change your homework policy?
Question: Which of the above solutions is the right one here?
Answer: ALL of them.
However, we’ve tried all of these and had mixed results. Not only that, but you might even be tempted to dismiss the third solution, viewing it as too hard to implement, or even a ‘waste of time’ if it doesn’t work. Either that or you are afraid of making changes that you and your colleagues view as adding further unmanageable workload. But I can tell you from experience that there is a way to implement a Flipped Classroom approach without increasing workload. In fact, when used properly, you actually reduce your workload over time, something we should all aspire towards. You can read this post for more tips on reducing workload.
Encouraging and guiding independent learning is the key to success
Mastering independent learning is what will ultimately make you students more resilient and less likely to give excuses for missing deadlines and failing to complete work. Furthermore, it will enable the students to go beyond what you as the teacher are able to achieve, in the limited number of hours that you see them in the classroom.
In reality, the Flipped Learning method of delivery, when approached sensibly, reduces the incidence of missed deadlines, challenges students further within a sequence of lessons and REDUCES WORKLOAD! That’s right – it’s that magic wand we’ve been searching for. You can click here to read my Seven Ways To Reduce Teaching Workload.
Why is Flipped Learning important?
In order for students to make outstanding progress, they must be able to move through Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, from the basics of remembering information, to being able to deploy that information is a meaningful and complex way. To achieve such a feat in lesson-time alone is almost impossible today. However, the Flipped Learning approach leverages time outside of the lesson, in order to move through the stages at a quicker pace whilst supporting students during the most complex parts. All you are doing is re-ordering activities, so that students are supported when they need it.
How can I use Flipped Learning in my lessons?
Lesson 1: Introduce students to the course you are teaching – give out information on the basic outline and discuss future issues to be studied further. This allows students to read ahead if they wish. Your more engaged students will do this if you open the door for them.
Homework task 1: Students research information from a book/watch a YouTube tutorial/listen to a podcast/etc, then answer a set of questions based on comprehension or evaluation of the material.
Lesson 2: Spend a little time on checking comprehension is completed to the standard required, then focus the rest of the lesson on applying that research to a problem-solving activity, an evaluative task, a scientific experiment, creating a product, or demonstrating a skill within a sport. Higher-order thinking skills are best studied and practised with you in the room to support the students. Many of them may not have this support at home.
Homework task 2: By this point, your students have established a basic understanding of the topic, have practised skills of analysis and evaluation and have seen model answers in class. The timing should now be perfect for students to tackle much more challenging tasks which synthesise their knowledge and understanding of the basics, with more complex material. The complex material that you add here should form a bridge from the topic which has just been taught, to the topic that you will cover in the next lesson.
Repeat this sequence until you have completed the course.
Examples of Flipped Learning resources to get you started
Podcasts – I often direct my students to iTunes as there is pretty much a podcast for anything you can imagine. Also, Audiopi has developed an extensive range of podcasts, created with GCSE and A Level students in mind. Read my post on Why Podcasts Improve Learning.
Video clips – As with podcasts, there are videos on everything. Youtube and Vimeo have an excellent range.
Books – Good old-fashioned words on pages. You can find books everywhere.
Market research – send students out to gather research on a topic from people they know. A simple Google Form can be created in minutes and emailed to anyone.
Blogs – You can find blogs on most topics, but make sure you thoroughly vet them first before directing students to them!
Nowhere in the Flipped Learning model has the teacher delivered basic-level content
Students can gather this information on their own. Obviously, don’t hand a ten-year-old an undergraduate textbook, or use a grainy video with a monotonous voice-over. The material must not only be accessible, it must also be engaging. Otherwise, students will ‘switch off’ and claim they couldn’t complete the task when in fact they just didn’t want to attempt it.
There are times where you, the teacher, as a subject-expert, needs to act “the sage on the stage”, but just not as often as previously thought. You can let go of the reins a little! Independent learning conducted frequently by the students relieves a lot of the pressure on you to deliver a high volume of content. The students are fully able to complete lower-intensity research tasks in their own time, freeing up lesson time for you to develop more advanced skills of analysis and evaluation and to deepen their understanding of key issues.
You have saved time on delivering content, students have managed to do this for themselves! You have spent a higher proportion of classroom time on higher-order learning activities (see Bloom’s Taxonomy for details), challenging students to use information in a range of practical ways. Less time and energy has been spent chasing students for missed homework deadlines, as students now find homework tasks easier to do – they have fewer excuses!
But more importantly, your (previously sceptical) colleagues now want to know your secret to having more free time, happier students and higher exam results. You don’t have to “sell” Flipped Learning to them anymore!
My challenge to you
Dive in. Have a go. Try it. PLEASE! (You can thank me later!) And then use those extra hours you’ve freed up each week to have a rest.