10 Jun 2021
By Mark Richards,
The cancellation of exams for a second year running has not only exposed the government’s lack of proper contingency plans for problems that were entirely foreseeable; it has also only added to the ridiculous burden of workload that teachers still find themselves struggling to cope with.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, schools have adapted admirably to the challenges thrown at them. First off, they have remained open to educate key workers’ children and vulnerable young people. Secondly, they had to modify their teaching for an online environment.
And last, but not least, they have also been left to pick up the pieces once again as students saw their exams cancelled.
Yes, exams have been cancelled. But they haven’t really been cancelled, they have simply been renamed ‘assessments’ and are being marked by teachers, for no extra pay – despite the fact that schools have still have to pay examination boards for exam entries.
Schools have kept going due to teacher goodwill and dedication
Only the goodwill and dedication of the teaching profession has kept the education sector afloat during the pandemic. But nobody can continue to work at full stretch indefinitely. It is some reassurance to see the major teaching union, the NEU, recently pass a motion to lobby the government for the introduction of ‘workload charter’. However, in truth the issue of teacher workload has been raised time and time again in recent years, and little (if any) progress has been made.
And now, due to the extra challenges forced on teachers because of Covid, it could be argued that teacher workload has now reached damagingly excessive levels.
We should not forget that coronavirus struck as schools had endured almost a decade of cuts, essentially meaning that schools have been trying to do more with less for years. There were already serious concerns for children’s mental health even before the pandemic. Now protracted time away from school and their peers has only exacerbated mental health concerns for young people.
Schools have tried valiantly to keep supporting students as necessary, but this has come at a high cost – many, many extra hours worked by dedicated and hardworking staff.
Technology has added to the teacher workload burden
Technology is, of course, extremely beneficial – in general terms – to all aspects of education. However, in many ways it has only added to the workload burden facing teachers. Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been vital in enabling teachers to provide online learning for students. However, layer upon layer of extra pressure with blended learning and the need to constantly try to match the learning of those present in school with those pupils who are not in the classroom has been added.
Government guidance regarding the pandemic and its effect on schools has frequently been last-minute, leaving schools with barely enough time to plan and implement.
Add to this the massive extra commitment of marking assessments for exam classes and the working week becomes barely manageable. Expert advice from TES suggests that teachers will spend about 20 minutes marking an exam paper. For a class of 30, that works out as over 10 hours per class. Bear in mind that there are two exams for all GCSE subjects, and many teachers will have more than one exam group.
Data workload – always one of the biggest issues when it comes to teacher workload – is higher than ever this year. And now we have to add the remote learning workload to the burden too.
To put it simply, teacher workload is unmanageable. Something must be done about it.
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