Teacher workload pledges welcome, but we need a whole education workforce strategy

Comment on speech by Education Secretary Damian Hinds on teacher workload

By Deborah Lawson, General Secretary, Voice

Education Secretary Damian Hinds has pledged to ‘strip away workload that doesn’t add value in the classroom and give teachers the time to focus on teaching’ in his first speech to the profession.

He announced:

  • a strategy to drive recruitment and boost retention of teachers working with teaching unions and professional bodies to devise ways of attracting, and keeping, the brightest and best graduates;
  • a commitment to work with Ofsted, regional schools commissioners, the Education and Skills Funding Agency and multi-academy trusts – to clarify their roles and ensure teachers and school leaders have a clear understanding of who they are accountable to, and for what
  • that there will be no new tests or assessment for primary schools and no changes to the national curriculum, GCSE or A levels for the remainder of this parliament, beyond those already announced.

Speaking at the same conference, Chief Inspector of Schools Amanda Spielman said that she wanted to ‘look at how Ofsted can play its part in reducing workload, so that you’re able to focus on the things that matter to you and to your pupils’.

We welcome the commitments from both Damian Hinds and Amanda Spielman to boost recruitment, reduce workload and to clarify and highlight existing guidelines on marking, planning, data and the role of inspectors (DfE). The Education Secretary’s commitment on no new tests or curriculum changes is also good news, as is his acknowledgment of ‘the government’s part in this’ and that of Ofsted. 

However, if many of the ‘non-teaching tasks that are not helping children to learn’ that teachers are being asked to drop are ‘pointless’, why were teachers asked to undertake them in the first place?

We look forward to working with the Education Secretary on the ‘strategy to drive recruitment and boost retention of teachers’, ‘improving access to high-quality professional development’, and building on the recent Flexible Working Summit, and will keep up the pressure to ensure that these warm words translate into concrete actions.

Reducing teacher workload, trusting ‘teachers to teach’, and addressing the accountability system were key issues highlighted in the recent joint union letter to the Secretary of State on teacher recruitment and retention, and it seems that he has listened to the unions’ concerns.

However, these are not the only issues impacting on teacher recruitment and retention.

Raising the salaries of teachers must also be addressed if teaching is to compete with other graduate professions.

As Mr Hinds admitted, ‘the funding of our schools and colleges is such an important topic(BBC News). However, although he said, ‘I understand why that's people's number one issue’, our schools and colleges need more than just understanding. They need hard cash. Voice will continue to press the Government for that much-needed funding.

Whole education workforce

But it’s not just about teachers.  What of the rest of the education workforce, which is being devastated through endless rounds of efficiency savings?  Without support staff, teachers’ and headteachers’ burdens increase further. What is needed is a whole education workforce recruitment and retention strategy, without which these ministerial commitments and initiatives lack cohesion. Again, Voice will keep up the pressure on behalf of all school staff.

As Damian Hinds put it, ‘ultimately education is all about people’.

Further information

Department for Education (DfE): Reducing teacher workload :

Reducing Teacher Workload poster (pdf) (DfE)

Teacher workload challenge: school research project reports (DfE)

Factors affecting teacher retention: qualitative investigation (DfE)

Amanda Spielman's speech at the ASCL annual conference 2018 (Ofsted)

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