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Last week's post in this series on Education Reform discussed the pressing need for teachers to rebuild teaching as a profession. A key element in this rebuilding programme would be a requirement for teachers to undertake ongoing, reflective, professional development in order to remain licensed as teachers.
Such an initiative cannot happen without the goodwill of teachers. They must see that a) it will be good for them as individuals and b) not add to their already considerable workload.
Good professional development does take time. There are no short cuts to learning. So, where can government help to reduce workload in order to allow time for learning?
Reduce the paperwork
Talk to most teachers in England (NB, Wales and Scotland already have different, reforming regimes) about what would make the biggest improvement to their professional lives and they will say “reduce the paperwork”.
What they're talking about is the termly, weekly and daily documentation required by schools as an audit trail. It proves that they are covering all the criteria and objectives required by the school's policies and government initiatives, and provides evidence that children are achieving as (or more than) expected.
It's difficult to argue against the need for such documentation. From the teacher's point of view it should help them to plan, carry out and evaluate their work effectively. From the child's point of view it should mean they end up with learning activities that are tailored to them as an individual. From the school's point of view it means they have evidence to show to OfSTED when they come calling.
What is difficult to argue is the scale of the task...
Most teachers have to prepare at least three sets of documents:
- Termly planning which provides an overview of what will be covered and when.
- Weekly planning which looks at the week ahead as a whole showing how the different lessons will fit together, and where the objectives set in the termly plan will be covered.
- Daily planning which looks at each lesson during the day, documenting, in detail, how the objectives will be met.
At its simplest, each time a teacher sits down to plan, they will need to consider a range of local and national frameworks and policies, which may include:
- national strategy framework for the subject under consideration
- national curriculum
- cross-curricular dimensions
- QCA scheme of work or local scheme of work
- individual education plans for children in their class with special needs
The relevant sections of these documents have to be recorded within the planning.
They then have to match up the disparate framework objectives with the children in their class, and plan a set of differentiated activities for that lesson that will allow each child to reach their potential for that objective. They also have to indicate how they will assess against each objective.
And each subject often has its own separate planning form! eg. the Maths example from National Strategies
For examples of the types of planning forms teachers have to fill in see the links below:
Individual lesson plan (Word doc) - StudentStaffroom.co.uk
National Strategies lesson plan outline
Medium term planning template (for Science) - North Yorks County Council
Long term plan example - John Davies Primary School
After the lesson the teacher then has to indicate how each child has achieved against the objectives, evaluate their own performance and whether the activities worked as planned.
All this has to be done for each lesson, for every day. Of course, the teacher also has to research and prepare resources, mark work, deal with queries from parents, help individual children, manage their teaching assistants, and deal with all the minutiae that children can bring to school.
What about PPA time?
The Planning, Preparation and Assessment time brought in by the current government, guarantees a minimum of 10 per cent of their timetabled teaching commitment to be used for planning, preparation and assessment. In practice this works out at about a half day every other week. Considering that teachers work, on average, 52 hours per week during term time (and most, in my experience, also work during school holidays), this actually makes very little dent in the planning time required for most teachers.
Documenting planning can become less of an issue in larger and particularly secondary schools. Economies of scale mean that workload can be shared, and there tends to be more flexibility in timetabling to allow planning to take place within the school day.
Those most affected by this planning problem are in primary schools and particularly schools where one teacher has responsibility for one or more whole year groups.
How do they do it?
The process most schools have adopted to generate all this documentation is extremely manual. In many cases, it's all written out in long-hand, with objectives copied into each document where needed, and then copied across into the more detailed planning.
More enlightened (and IT-confident) teachers will use a word-processor, but there's still vast amounts of copying and pasting to be done.
Some schools have adopted generic technologies such as Google Apps to assist their planning processes.
A growing number are also using ICT tools that are specifically designed to aid planning. (eg. the excellent Skillsfactory). The best of these will allow collaborative editing, sharing of planning, drilling down into the planning, and reuse of data.
Given the massive difference these tools make to those teachers that use them, it's amazing how little press is given to them from the unions and from government.
The government's role
Government intervention in school software markets has to date been about setting functionality standards (eg. Learning Platforms), or about providing financial incentives (eg. Curriculum online). Neither have worked particularly well.
The process of setting national functionality standards is always a long one, and therefore always lags behind what is technically possible. This tends to lead to a slow down in innovation.
Financial incentives become seen as a cash cow for the software providers who then invest heavily in their sales and marketing. The schools see the ring-fenced funding as just money that has to be spent, and often take less care than they should in deciding a) what it should be spent on and b) any change management that would need to take place to take full advantage of the software.
There are a two ways that government could stimulate take-up (and further development) of teacher planning tools:
- Develop a standard, machine-readable (ie. XML) way of describing curriculum objectives, that could be used by all nationally-produced curriculum frameworks. It would be similar to, even be based on, the IMS learning object metadata standard. With frameworks published using such a standard, the software suppliers would be able to focus their time on creating software that's useful for teachers rather than each of them trying to maintain the frameworks in their own system. Schools, local authorities or publishers could also create their own curriculum frameworks using this standard, which could then be used within the planning tool.
- Provide funding for teacher professional development that is dependant on the school showing how it has reduced the teacher planning workload (which may or may not be through the use of ICT).
With these two initiatives in place, we would then expect to see more innovation in the planning tool market, and also an increase in the levels of professional development taken up by teachers.
There will be more discussion on professional development when I get to point 7 of my manifesto for education reform. Next week, however, I'll move onto looking at the use of online learning within (and without!) school.