Survey to examine weight of workload

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

Federation Council has decided to conduct a statewide survey on the work of teachers, executives and principals in Term 1, 2018. The survey will be based on the findings of the qualitative research by Sydney University presented in the Final Report on Teaching and Learning — A Review of Workload.

The research project was based on extensive interviews with a small group of teachers, executives and principals across a diverse range of schools. The researchers found that “there was a surprising uniformity in responses in relation to high work hours and administrative sources of workload”. This was regardless of the position held in the school or the school type.

Teachers, executives and principals all reported on the additional work created by significant and ongoing policy changes, new reforms or initiatives, and so-called “accountability” requirements including data collection. The cumulative effect has been excessive demands without appropriate support or resources, and has resulted in longer work hours and constant pressure on time for teaching and learning.

There were consistent reports of excessive administrative and clerical tasks. Typical comments included: “I feel like there’s things that I do that probably could be done by someone without my skills and experience, like administrative tasks.”

Similarly constant and cumulative changes create the need for meetings before, during and after school. One said: “We seem to have endless meetings … not necessarily that things are unproductive, but we are so busy all the time that we don’t have time to absorb and put things in place.”

Data collection was identified as a key issue. One participant said, “[in the past] I was never required to physically collect and upload so much information. I always assessed my kids’ learning and used that for myself to determine what to do next. Now I have to pass on that information, which requires me to either type it into a database or collect actual work samples and upload them and share them with someone.” Concern was expressed about constantly proving what was being done by recording everything and a sense that the system did not trust the professional judgement of teachers.

Some participants felt data was useful as a form of “forced reflection” or gave a “sense of security”. More were uncertain why so much data was required, who the data was really for and what it was meant to evidence. Many felt collecting data and providing evidence reduced time for preparation, marking and providing creative and engaging lessons. The effect on teachers, executives and principals created stress, low morale or “drained” energy levels. This is consistent with the findings of the People Matter Survey 2017 Report for teachers in public schools where only 41 per cent said they are able to keep “work stress at an acceptable level”, and 46 per cent agreed “change is managed well in my organisation”.

The report said: “Teachers, it seems, are happy enough to work long hours if they are doing work they see the point of and value. Completing extensive administrative tasks and responding to apparently extraneous policy requirements that do not help them in preparing their classes are examples of activities that do not fit this category.

“Overall, increases in workload appear to be felt universally. This suggests the problem is systemic with a diverse and extensive policy settlement blanketing the entirety of the NSW public school landscape in a layer of increased requirements.”

Federation will pursue issues identified in the report with the Department, including concerns about a casual teacher shortage. The survey will inform the development of a campaign aimed at reducing the excessive and often conflicting demands made on schools. Seminars on work-related stress and work overload will continue to be provided for Associations.

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