The ‘intolerable’ burden of resourcing for the new specifications
by Rob Caudwell
One of the most vivid memories I have of my first term as a teacher was when I was first shown a bank of worksheets on the department shared area that my head of department had purchased a few years earlier. I could have wept. For weeks I had been spending hours every evening carefully crafting question after question. And here was a seemingly endless supply of carefully designed questions that were far better than anything I had been creating.
Joyful at the prospect of not having to start from scratch on the volume lessons booked in for the following week? Absolutely. A bit miffed that no one had bothered to tell me this earlier? Definitely.
9 Hours a Week
Last year’s Teacher Workload Survey concluded that the average teacher in England spends 9 hours a week planning lessons. 9 hours. Even more worryingly, however, it seems that a large proportion of this time is spent creating or finding resources. This isn’t 9 hours of careful strategising over the optimal deployment of your arsenal, this is 9 hours of putting the arsenal together in the first place.
In their recent report on the new national curriculum, the Policy Exchange think tank concluded frankly that “the workload demand on teachers creating almost all of their resources themselves is intolerable”.
It is no wonder, then, that both the Policy Exchange and the Independent Teacher Workload Group have called for schools to invest in teaching resources.
The Dangers of the Trawl
“This is not to say that high quality resources cannot be developed by groups of teachers to support schemes of work, but the cost/benefit of continually searching for or producing materials should be a critical consideration.” – Independent Teacher Workload Group
Of course, there are fantastic resources that have been shared by teachers online. While using freely shared resources is undoubtedly cheaper than purchasing professionally created teaching tools, it is not without its costs.
Finding great resources requires serious work. For every genius worksheet someone has shared online, there are twenty more average-to-poor ones. For every carefully researched blog on effective teaching tools, there are many more dubious ones. The discerning teacher has to spend time sifting through the huge volume of suggestions available to find something that will be good (or just good enough) for tomorrow’s Year 9s. Finding resources online can be incredibly rewarding, but it is not a time saver. I have heard many teachers speak of times where it took them longer to find something online than it would have if they had decided to create it themselves in the first place.
This problem is even more serious for inexperienced staff or those teaching outside of their subject specialism. Without a solid understanding of what makes good, pedagogically sound teaching materials, these teachers can end up unwittingly finding and relying on resources that are ineffective, incorrect or inaccurate. Without careful moderation and quality assurance, relying on free lesson materials sourced online, can be not only time consuming but potentially damaging too.
"Although a “crowdsourced” curriculum planning and resource “ecology” may seem laudable, it actually means even where there are pockets of expert practice, their impact can be overwhelmed by poor quality resources." – Completing the Revolution
Find Time for Flair
While saving teachers time is reason enough to consider investing in good quality and reliable resources, there is a significant further benefit. Taking pressure off finding or creating teaching resources can allow teachers and departments to spend more time considering the use of their materials.
Good resources are not the only thing needed for a good lesson. Teachers must also consider how content and activities can be delivered most effectively. A teacher who has spent hours creating (or finding) powerpoints, homework activities or revision tools will not have much time or energy left for thinking about how best to deploy them. A teacher with access to high quality, easily accessible resources can afford to spend more of their time thinking about how they can add to their lessons what Ofsted (in a rare moment of flamboyance) described as “the flair of the chef”.
There are departmental benefits too. In a speech last year, Amanda Spielman spoke of a trend she had observed. Departments were not spending time talking about or debating how they planned to deliver their curricula. The most common reason given, was that there just wasn’t enough time. Departments were too busy rewriting and then re-resourcing schemes of work for the new specifications. Easing this pressure with effective, specification-appropriate homework and teaching resources will make it so much easier for departments to find time to have crucial conversations relating to pedagogical approach and curriculum strategy.
“Senior and middle leaders should ensure that a fully resourced scheme of work is in place for all teachers at least for the start of each term involving the curriculum team in the development as part of regular professional development. This should be a default expectation... Once schemes are in place... teachers can be freed to teach it in a way that best suits their professional judgement and experience.” – Independent Workload Group
Start talking about resourcing
Senior leaders should start by talking to their departments. Where are they feeling under-resourced? What subject specific challenges are they facing? Where are they having to learn new content themselves as they begin teaching the more challenging specifications? How are they managing homework and revision in the build up to the new exams? Are they finding time to discuss curriculum delivery as a department, or is this a “luxury” they don’t currently have time for? How are they providing for inexperienced or non-subject-specialists in their departments? Are their current schemes of work fit for purpose?
And most importantly of all, how long are their teachers spending planning lessons and creating resources? Nine hours a week is intolerable.
As a Maths teacher in Manchester, I was an advocate for creative learning strategies and the effective use of ed-tech. In my role as an Education Adviser at Doddle I help schools implement tools that engage students, save teachers time, help middle leaders use data strategically and allow senior leaders to “join up” their thinking on all things progress, assessment, homework, teaching and learning.
– Rob Caudwell
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