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Our workload guidance will help you identify tasks or activities which are unnecessary, have no education benefit and cause the most stress.

A THIRD OF members say their workload is never manageable, a recent National Education Union survey has found, and more than a quarter are working between six and 10 hours during evenings and weekends each week. These are the initial findings from our workload survey, which took place in October.

Tackling workload requires change throughout the system, and the National Education Union will continue to put pressure on the Government for change at the national level. But immediate improvement can be secured at school level by members working collaboratively. So we have put together a set of tools and advice that members can use to improve work-life balance, including a toolkit on identifying problems and securing change, and advice on implementing the 2016 teacher workload review reports. 

Workload review group reports

The DfE set up the Independent Teacher Workload Review Groups to report on, and suggest solutions to, unnecessary burdens associated with three areas – marking, planning and data management.

Their reports, published in March 2016, made recommendations to the Government, Ofsted, school leaders, governing bodies, local authorities and multi-academy trusts, and teachers, and were accepted in full by the then education secretary. They debunked myths, highlighted Government failures and set out what must change. They can, if implemented, go some way to reducing your workload.

pencil with a clock on a calendar

Too often, it is marking itself that is monitored by leaders, rather than pupil outcomes and progress as a result of quality feedback.

Debunking the myths
  • Giving feedback to pupils is vital for learning; written marking isn’t.
  • Spending hours marking does not make you a good teacher.
  • Writing pages of feedback does not make you more effective as a teacher.
  • There is no obvious link between the quantity of marking and pupil progress.
  • There is no guidance from Government or Ofsted that says teachers must provide written feedback and pupils should respond in writing.
  • Marking doesn’t need its own policy – it is a part of assessment.

Advice for members

Could you stop written marking – for a week, for a phase, for a subject, forever (some schools have)? If so, use the time to engage in the following challenges:

  • Embed the principles of effective marking: do you have a shared agreement about what manageable, meaningful and motivating marking looks like in your school – for the age range/subject you teach?
  • Do you have an understanding, as a staff and shared with your senior leadership team, about how long marking takes?
  • Does your assessment policy (or your marking policy) have a workload impact assessment? If not, can you come to some (rough) figures for how long it would take to fulfil?
  • Do you know what impact your marking has on pupil progress? Can you agree a project with school leaders to review marking with the aim of minimising unnecessary demands on teachers’ time?
  • How many different techniques do you have to assess pupil learning? How many are identified in your assessment policy? How can you increase that range?

Case study

In a secondary school in the north west of England, members concerned about unreasonable appraisal targets and excessive monitoring of pupil data refused to accept appraisal objectives and to carry out tasks linked to pupil data tracking. After one month, concessions led to the settlement of the dispute.

Planning and resources

Too often, planning is taken to mean the production of daily written lesson plans that function as evidence for an accountability ‘paper trail’, the report found, rather than the process of effective planning for pupil progress and attainment.

Debunking the myths
  • Planning is vital; the daily lesson plan much less so.
  • Sharing your planning and resources, and using other people’s, doesn’t make you a bad teacher.
  • Spending time finding or creating the ‘perfect’ resource doesn’t make you a better teacher.
  • You can use high-quality textbooks to support planning and teaching, not to replace your professional knowledge and skill.
  • Ofsted doesn’t require individual lesson plans during an inspection, or past plans.
  • You can’t judge good teaching by seeing a lesson plan.

Advice for members

  • Could you stop writing out plans for every lesson – for a week, for a phase, for a subject, forever? Could you adapt plans or resources from another teacher or a previous year? If so, use the time saved to engage in the following challenges:
  • Do you have schemes of work? Can you agree a programme of review and development over the next few terms so everyone has ownership and will feel able to use and adapt them?
  • Are there blocks of time when other teachers are available so you can plan together? Do you know how to plan collaboratively and effectively so you are improving your own subject knowledge, as well as your teaching and children’s learning?
  • Do you have any externally produced resources? Can you adapt them to meet your needs? Is there any money for new resources? How will you evaluate what’s available?
  • Are you expected to plan every subject, or every phase, in the same way? Can you discuss with your senior leadership team/governors what effective planning looks like across different subjects and phases?
  • Do you know what impact your planning has on pupil progress? Can you agree a project with your school leaders to review the impact of planning with the aim of minimising unnecessary demands on teachers’ time?
  • Think about how your senior leadership team can evidence effective planning and teaching without the need to see written lesson plans. 
  • Does your planning policy have a workload impact assessment? If not, ask your management team to draw one up for consultation with National Education Union members

Case study

In a primary school in south Wales, excessive scrutiny and an overbearing management style led members to threaten strike action. The management style improved, and teachers were trusted once again and subject to less scrutiny.

Data management

Used well, data can have a positive impact, helping teachers to teach and school leaders to focus on the right issues. The Government report identifies how it has become a burden rather than a benefit, and what needs to change to reduce the load on teachers.

Debunking the myths
  • Data, when well used, can have a profound and positive impact: data collection in itself doesn’t.
  • Data shouldn’t be collected ‘just in case’ or to be ‘ready’.
  • Data shouldn’t be collected ‘just because you can’ – it should have a clear purpose.
  • Ofsted does not require a particular format or a particular frequency: you should present any data in the format that schools would normally use to monitor pupils’ progress.
Close up edge of colourful magazine stacking roll

Advice for members

Stop collecting data if the burden of collection outweighs its use. Don’t collect summative data more than three times a year per pupil. Don’t collect formative data. Instead, use the time to engage in the following challenges:

  • Do you know why each piece of data is collected? Do you know who uses the data and how? If not, ask.
  • Does your school have an assessment and data management calendar, to understand the assessment demands throughout the year? If not, can you develop one?
  • Does your school regularly audit in-school data management procedures to ensure they are robust, valid, effective and manageable? If not, suggest that this is good practice.
  • Do you have to record data in different ways for different audiences? Can you discuss requirements with your leadership team and streamline collection? The three reports have been welcomed by the National Education Union as a first step towards changing the culture in schools. Members are urged to read them before discussing them in school.

A whole-school approach is best, where school leaders and staff work together to identify pressures and find solutions that work for everyone. Make time for meetings, surveys and discussions together to make the most difference. However, if senior leaders are still not engaging with the recommendations in these workload review reports, or the collaborative approach outlined in our toolkit below does not succeed, the National Education Union will support members to ballot for industrial action to resolve matters, continuing the successful approach pursued previously by ATL in Northern Ireland and by the NUT in England and Wales.


National Education Union members have reduced workload in many workplaces using the strategy set out in this section. Punitive appraisal policies, unacceptable pay policies and excessive observations have all been successfully resisted.

You can use this approach to tackle just one workload concern or more than one, and the more members who participate, the greater the impact will be.

  1. Share your concerns with your colleagues and start a conversation about them – ask one of your National Education Union reps to arrange a meeting of members to discuss the issue(s). If you don’t have a rep, organise a meeting yourself or contact us for advice on how to organise a meeting.
  2. Find out at the meeting which issues members are concerned about and care about most – there may be other commonly shared concerns.
  3. Don’t just rely on a lunchtime meeting – you could identify volunteers to talk to other colleagues and collect/collate views, hold informal discussions at other times, organise a survey, or raise the issue through staff meetings or other communication systems.
  4. Encourage colleagues to be part of a campaign – look for issues that are widely and deeply felt, winnable or partly winnable, easy to understand, and likely to result in a real improvement to working lives. 
  5.  Make your discussions solution focused: develop concrete suggestions for changes that will reduce workload; if you can, find case studies of successful work-life balance in other workplaces and set out the impact on students as well as on staff.
  6. Once you secure consensus on the issues members want addressed, seek a meeting with the headteacher/ principal. Make use of any existing structure for union consultation meetings; if there isn’t one, ask for one as a regular means of communication. Your rep should be accompanied by other members if support is needed.
  7. Decide the issues you want to focus on. Take a collaborative approach as far as possible – explain that National Education Union members have discussed the issues, identified concerns and proposed solutions to reduce excessive workload, allowing staff to focus time on tasks that contribute to pupil learning and a healthy workplace. Seek to work with your managers to reach an agreement.
  8. Ask your headteacher/principal to meet with staff representatives on a regular basis – perhaps once a term – to discuss workload issues.
  9. If the headteacher/principal does not accept your proposals and insists members will be required to continue working in a way that creates excessive workload, contact the National Education Union, who can come and meet with you all, and discuss ways the issue could be revisited. There are several strategic options available.
  10. The National Education Union will always make every effort to resolve disputes before industrial action – but remember that the threat of action often persuades school leaders or governors to respect concerns about workload and its impact on staff and students. In the majority of schools where members have threatened strike action, the situation has been resolved without the action taking place. If it is necessary for you to take industrial action, any loss of pay will be reimbursed by the National Education Union.

Case study

In a growing number of areas, originating in Nottingham, workload charters have been negotiated. These mean schools have undertaken that staff can expect a fair and reasonable workload, with policies on marking, planning and data management subject to regular review and workload impact assessment, and high-quality training and professional development opportunities.

Getting involved

Strengthening our influence in schools and colleges lies at the heart of the creation of the National Education Union. Bringing together strong and inclusive rep teams will help build a representative and influential union, and will enable members to challenge and change the culture of excessive and unnecessary workload. Reps can use this new toolkit and advice to work together to tackle workload with members. If there isn’t a rep, members can elect a National Education Union rep or team of reps.

Workplace reps work together to organise and represent the views of members in discussions and negotiations with leaders.

Health and safety reps lead on issues that impact on the health and safety of staff, and work with staff and leaders to ensure the workplace and workplace practices are risk-assessed and safe.

Learning reps lead on issues around professional development, working with members and leaders to ensure colleagues have access to high-quality CPD to continually develop knowledge and improve outcomes for pupils. When someone new takes up the role of rep in your workplace, email us with contact details.