Five key principles for workforce policy and practice in schools

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, excessive workload and poor wellbeing were cited by teachers and school leaders across the UK as among their main concerns about the quality of their working lives.

Not only have many of the causes of these concerns remained relevant during the pandemic, they have been exacerbated by the extraordinary pressures that COVID-19 has placed on schools and the staff who work in them. The need to adapt quickly to rapidly changing circumstances, while facing the same range of challenges that COVID-19 brought to every other member of society, has placed unprecedented demands on the UK’s teachers and school leaders.

Schools across the UK have now reopened their doors to all pupils, but will be operating in ways that have the potential to place even greater pressure on the workforce.

Ensuring that in such circumstances children and young people can continue to receive their entitlement to a high-quality education will require schools to implement approaches to the management of the workforce that not only address long-standing drivers of excessive workload and poor wellbeing, but also recognise the scale of the challenges the workforce has faced, and will continue to face, as the COVID-19 situation develops.

While the context within which each UK education system operates is different, the NASUWT has identified five key universal principles of workforce-related practice to ensure that schools can become and remain COVID-resilient.

  1. Allow teachers and school leaders to focus on teaching and leading teaching and learning

Across the UK, schools are expected to support pupils’ reintegration by identifying their learning needs and providing learning experiences that will address these needs and secure their continued progress and attainment. In order to secure this objective, teachers and school leaders must be allowed to focus their attention and efforts on activities related to their core responsibilities for teaching and leading teaching and learning.

In order to ensure that teachers and school leaders are not encumbered by tasks and duties that do not make effective use of their professional knowledge, expertise and understanding, schools must identify those responsibilities and activities that do not add direct value to pupil achievement. These tasks should be allocated to other members of the workforce better placed to undertake them or discontinued entirely.

No school can expect to meet the educational needs of its pupils if it fails to permit its qualified teachers to concentrate on what they do best – teach.

  1. Support teachers and school leaders in the face of unprecedented pressures

Ensuring that teachers and school leaders can meet the learning needs of pupils requires the creation and maintenance of a genuinely supporting working environment. Securing such an environment includes not only providing a workplace that is COVID-secure but also allowing teachers to make effective and appropriate use of their professional judgement and discretion, free from bullying or other adverse management practices.

The management of teachers and school leaders must, where necessary, be refocused on the contribution it can make to supporting teachers to exercise their professionalism.

  1. Focus on teacher and school leader wellbeing

Teacher and school leader wellbeing and mental health, as well as being important concerns in their own right, have always been central to securing an effective, motivated and resilient workforce, capable of meeting the challenges associated with providing worthwhile and engaging learning opportunities for children and young people.

The NASUWT has published a range of resources that will support work to identify and tackle barriers to securing workforce wellbeing and positive mental health in the workplace. These resources include:

Other helpful sources of information and advice, including on the Valued Worker Scheme initiative and the Health and Safety Executive Talking Toolkit for Schools can be accessed from the Health and Safety section of the NASUWT website.

  1. Attack the drivers of excessive and unnecessary workload

In addition to removing from teachers and school leaders those tasks that do not reflect their role as qualified teachers, it is also important that professional activities are organised in such a way that they avoid excessive and unnecessary workload burdens.

The NASUWT website contains a wide range of advice and support on tackling unacceptable workload burdens, including the main drivers of excessive workload - marking, planning, and the use of data and assessment (pdf).

  1. Implementing teachers’ and school leaders’ contractual and statutory entitlements

Wherever they work in the UK, teachers and school leaders have a range of statutory and/or contractual entitlements (e.g. directed time, planning and preparation time, leadership and management time) that can support the achievement of manageable workloads and their right to a work/life balance and which should not be encroached upon.

These entitlements are more important than ever in ensuring that schools are as well placed as possible to meet the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic must not be seen as justification for undermining any of these rights and the NASUWT will continue to represent members robustly if their entitlements are not respected.

Information and advice on teachers' and school leaders' rights and entitlements in each UK jurisdiction, particularly those related to workload and wellbeing, are available on our Conditions of Service web page.

Talk to us

Members should contact the NASUWT immediately if they have concerns about their workload, working time or changes to their working conditions.