Why the education community should work to reduce overwork

Sam Blyth, Director of Schools and Further Education at Canvas, reflects on how technology can help overworked teachers

Teachers in the UK are overworked. Everywhere you look, and by every available metric, the consensus on this point is irrefutable. This issue came to a head recently, with Mary Bousted, General Secretary of ATL, suggesting that many teachers are going as far as to take a pay cut and work a four day week in order to keep up with their marking. Our own research reflects this, finding that two-thirds of teachers believe that their situation has got out of hand, and almost half are considering leaving the teaching profession as a result.

Unfortunately, there is no indication that this trend will be slowing down, with official projections showing the number of school age children steadily increasing, while funding for pupils faces deep cuts. These worrying predictions leave teachers in a difficult position, already struggling with the challenges of today’s educational landscape and now facing the prospect of more work and less time.

As the UK faces a general election, greater investment into education is top of mind for everyone. Political leaders, analysts, teachers and parents have all called for more budget, a focus on the core curriculum, a back-to-basics approach to delivery—and the need for more teachers.

If we agree that today’s situation is untenable, we need to ask what can be done to prevent this crisis from deepening. A key to this is understanding what the main problem areas are for teachers, the fundamental issues that are causing the most stress in their work day. For many teachers the biggest constraint on their time is marking and administration. According to our research, one in six teachers in the UK spends more than 11 hours a week on marking and assessments, more than their counterparts in both the US (9%) and Australia (7%).

Education technology can also benefit teachers in a broader sense, by reducing fragmentation, and allowing teachers across departments to collaborate with one another

This administrative burden placed on teachers has been exacerbated in recent years by the increase in tracked performance of students, Ofsted inspections and benchmarking in schools. In a bid to ensure that pupils are receiving the best quality of education, and are able to quantify their academic progress, educators are being asked to administer more tests, undertake more marking, and spend more time on non-teaching activities than ever before.

Devising a solution to this wide-ranging and complicated issue is not something that can be achieved overnight, and it won’t come in the form of a blanket, one-size-fits-all approach. One of the biggest mistakes that can be made when trying to untangle the educational Gordian knot is implementing practices that appear to help with workplace stress, but end up generating more admin for teachers. With 16 years of experience in schools, I feel that the best way to approach this problem is by taking the areas where we know improvements need to be made—marking and administration being two—and developing targeted fixes that won’t add to the burden of educators.

In this way, tech in the classroom can come into its own, as it can tackle very specific administrative problems without generating more paperwork. Using the issue of marking as an example, tech providers are able to develop solutions that cut hours off the workload compared to traditional methods. The Canvas marking solution—SpeedGrader—is one of the system’s most popular features, and highlights the appetite that teachers have for technological answers to their everyday workload problems.

Education technology can also benefit teachers in a broader sense, by reducing fragmentation, and allowing teachers across departments to collaborate with one another. By bringing teachers together, and enabling them to share resources, lesson plans and assessments, the job can become less isolated. Moreover, if these resources are maintained in a single system that can be accessed from anywhere, the fear that they will be lost or corrupted is lessened, and teachers won’t need to deal with the burden of maintaining their files in hard copy.

Tech like Canvas also helps with the measurement issue, helping educators flex the way that they benchmark and assess students and enabling an ongoing and more meaningful approach. We believe that the industry needs to fundamentally change here—moving from rigid tests and measures to a continuous and reciprocal approach that will ultimately save time, and produce better results—as teachers can intervene more quickly when required.

So there are solutions to this problem. We know that teachers are vital, and it is imperative that we in the education community rally around them and work towards making their lives easier.

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