We’d like to introduce you to 10 with Zen, Zen Educate’s brand new podcast series. We wanted to provide you with short, informative and insightful content and we’ve been really looking forward to showing you the result! It’s out now, and you can find it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Youtube, Google Podcasts and Soundcloud.

In our first episode, Doing Less Better, presenter Helen Woodward talks with Liz Whetham about teacher workload. Liz, who is Executive Headteacher at Holy Trinity CofE Primary, Calderdale, and Consultant Headteacher at Westminster Primary, Bradford, gives her insight on how a combination of effective planning, thoughtful governance and a rethinking of school policy can save teachers valuable time and reduce their workload. Here are some key insights from the podcast:

Improving planning to improve teacher workload

Summary: Teacher workload has been a topic of discussion for a long time within the education sector, and in recent years there has been a push in reducing workload for teaching staff. When considering a school’s workload management, strategy is the first area to address.

Key Insights: As a member of the Department for Education workgroup who wrote the Workload Reduction Toolkit in 2018, Liz knows there was a collective movement working toward reducing teacher workload in the UK prior to the pandemic. Just under half of schools nationwide had plans in place to reduce teacher workload. It’s the planning that Liz stressed is the first port of call in managing workload, especially since crisis management has become yet another additional responsibility for teachers.

Opportunities: While it goes without saying that crisis management takes precedence at a time like this, Liz praised the school leaders still finding time to fit workload reduction into their planning:“that’s continued to happen this year, especially with the schools that I’ve had the privilege of working with. I’ve been indebted to those headteachers who continue on their workload reduction journey, even at such a difficult time.”

How Governance plays its part

Summary: Governors contribute so much to schools, but sometimes governance can be overlooked as an area that can increase teacher workload. Liz argued that it’s important for governors to be aware of the implications of their requests on schools and their leadership teams.

Key Insights: “I hear too many stories from schools saying ‘well my governors want to know this, my governors want to know that’, but really in terms of strategic direction of the school, that’s not really required” Liz explained. The wellbeing of a school’s staff is the responsibility of its governors, and it’s important to keep the governors as informed as possible so that any requests are in the wider interest of the school.

Opportunities: Being frank with governors about their impact on workload can be difficult for obvious reasons, but there are plenty of resources to ensure that conversation is objective and not personal. “Fortunately, the National Governors Association has been really supportive. They’ve produced a wellbeing audit, and therefore it kind of removes a little bit of the emotion. (…) it would be a good idea that any headteacher that thinks it could be a tricky conversation with their governors starts with that NGA toolkit.”

Why sometimes ditching is better than tweaking

Summary: When looking for areas of improvement within a school, some aspects of policy may be better off kept as they are, while others might need to be changed. Liz argues that there is a third, sometimes overlooked option - ditching policies altogether!

Key Insights: “Don’t do things for doing things’ sake.” Liz shared a colourful example of one school she visited enacting policies for no other reason than they had always done so: “they were talking about why they did a particular thing regarding data, and the conversation went around the whole room and to the head, and the head said ‘I don’t know why we do it.’ (…) Do we really need all the policies we’ve got?”

Opportunities: COVID already seems to have left its legacy on schools, exposing some schools’ policies as being purely customary. One notable example, as Liz points out, is pupils changing back their clothes after PE lessons. “At primary, from a hygiene point of view we’re pretty much alright with children coming in their PE kit, and I’ve heard a lot of schools say this is the legacy of the current situation that they’re going to continue with, because less time is lost from getting changed.” Liz finished this point up memorably and poignantly: “these are some legacies (…) we can take forward for when we get back to normal - I think the phrase is ‘back to better’ that we should be aiming for”.

We’d like to thank Liz again for her time and insight. Listen to the full episode here and look out for new episodes soon!