Addressing workload and accountability issues

You can tackle workload by focusing on a number of issues concurrently, focusing on the issue causing the greatest concern, or addressing issues one by one.

Our approach involves identifying tasks or activities which are unnecessary, have no education benefit and cause the most stress - and agreeing to approach management with a view to stopping those activities, with NEU support being available if necessary to refuse to undertake them until they are ended or changed.

Government, Ofsted and Estyn guidance

The DfE’s three independent Workload Review Group reports on marking, planning and data management include powerful recommendations designed to improve practice in schools which can be used to help limit workload.  In Wales, Estyn has published similar advice for schools.

Ofsted has also published guidance on what Ofsted does not expect from schools during or before inspections.  It makes clear, for example, that Ofsted does not expect to see deep or extended marking or written records of oral feedback.

Securing your entitlements under the STPCD

The School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) applies by law in all local authority maintained schools. Many academies include its terms in teachers’ contracts and it will continue to apply by law to teachers who worked at the school before it adopted academy status.   All teachers should receive their entitlements under the STPCD.

Planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time - The STPCD gives all teachers the right to at least 10 per cent of timetabled teaching time for planning, preparation and assessment.  Teachers cannot be required to carry out other duties during their PPA time. It should be for teachers to determine how this should be used.

Management time/headship time - The STPCD also gives a right to dedicated time within school sessions to support the discharge of leadership & management responsibilities.

Cover for absent colleagues - The STPCD requires teachers to cover ‘rarely, and only in circumstances that are not foreseeable’ ie in genuine emergencies.  Asking teachers to cover in other circumstances, such as for planned absences, is unacceptable.

Administrative and clerical tasks - The STPCD continues to provide that teachers cannot be required routinely to carry out such tasks. Teachers should not carry out time-consuming tasks which do not require their professional expertise and staff should consider whether the work is necessary at all.

Invigilating exams - The STPCD says that teachers cannot, other than in a few exceptions, be required to invigilate public examinations.  If your school has slipped back into using teachers, it’s time to address this before the next exam season.

Excessive or unnecessary workload due to current working practices or new initiatives

If such practices have not been properly assessed for their workload impact, you could start by seeking to work collaboratively to look at the impact of those practices and decide whether to stop or find better ways of doing things.  If that doesn’t solve the issue, however, then the National Education Union will support members (including by balloting where necessary) in refusing to cooperate with such practices.


Although giving feedback to pupils is important, this does not necessarily mean written marking. Too many schools have fallen back on written marking as a proxy for feedback, adding to teacher workload. Schools should assess the time demanded by their marking policies, and work collaboratively to develop feedback policies and practices that demonstrably improve pupil learning.

Many teachers are also required to set and mark practice tests and exams. Where this is deemed absolutely necessary, teachers should expect that other tasks are stopped in order to make time available.

Where this does not happen, then challenging unreasonable expectations about marking will help reduce unnecessary workload, while also enhancing teaching and learning.

Lesson planning

Planning lessons is an essential part of every teacher’s role. Teachers constantly review and amend their planning and their teaching to support pupils’ learning. They do not regard lesson plans as scripts but instead as a key element of professional practice.

Ofsted is interested in the effectiveness of planning rather than the form it takes.  Objecting to unreasonable prescription and scrutiny is consistent with maintaining the highest standards of professional practice.

Expectations in relation to emails

Email is an essential tool but it is unreasonable to expect teachers to read and respond to emails to unrealistically tight deadlines or outside the normal working day. 


Sensible arrangements for meetings are important to prevent them from encroaching on time for other professional duties.  For classroom teachers, all meetings should be part of the contractual 1265 hours of directed time.  To keep track of directed hours, schools should use directed time calendars.  Seek to ensure that on average there is no more than one after-school meeting per week lasting no more than one hour, with a maximum of two evenings in any week, including parents’ evenings. Adopting these measures will help schools to operate more efficiently for all concerned.

Mock inspections

Inspection by itself does not improve teaching or learning.   Mock inspections and preparation for them can be disruptive and cause unnecessary stress and workload.  There is no statutory requirement to participate in ‘mocksteds’.

Appraisal processes

The NEU advocates appraisal which is developmental, supportive and based on a professional dialogue and which ultimately improves teaching and learning.  If the appraisal process in your school is unfair or over-burdensome then collectively you should seek to secure change. 

Lesson observations

Good practice in lesson observation requires a professional dialogue, proper planning and the allocation of sufficient time. When this is carried out for professional development purposes, chosen by the teacher and followed up with developmental discussions with peers, it can lead to great improvements in practice throughout a school. However, observations for performance management purposes are usually carried out by senior leaders and may be perceived to be about judgement rather than development. It is difficult to envisage meeting the criteria for good practice under these circumstances and with more than three performance management observations per teacher in any one year.  Excessive classroom observation is one of the biggest sources of stress and does not of itself lead to better classroom practice.  It also, of course, adds unnecessarily to the workload of those undertaking the observations.

Writing reports for parents and families

One report per year is sufficient for parental accountability, alongside parents’ evenings and individual discussions with parents where necessary. Spending too much time on report writing can distract from effective formative assessment and feedback to learners.

Inappropriate use of “gained time”

“Gained time” is when teachers are released from timetabled teaching commitments as a result of study or examination leave. While the STPCD no longer restricts the activities which teachers can be required to undertake during gained time, the NEU advises that teachers should not agree to undertake any work other than the following activities previously set out in the STPCD:

  • developing/revising department/subject materials, schemes of work, lesson plans and policies in preparation for the new academic year, including identifying appropriate materials for use by supply staff and/or cover supervisors
  • assisting colleagues in appropriate planned team teaching activities
  • taking groups of pupils to provide additional learning support
  • supporting selected pupils with coursework
  • undertaking planned activities with pupils transferring between year groups or from primary schools
  • where the school has a policy for all staff to release them for continuing professional development (CPD) during school sessions, gained time may be used.

Further advice on appraisal checklists, classroom observation protocols, guidance on what constitutes reasonable objective setting, teachers working time and duties guide and general guidance on dealing with workload with colleagues and individually can be found on ATL section and NUT section.

You and your colleagues can use the NEU  guide on Tackling Workload Together to successfully secure change in your workplace.


Download now

07 November 2017