Managing workload

Author: Sue Cowley
Published: 11/08/2020


Teaching is a job that will expand to meet the amount of time you are willing to devote to it. The truth is that a teacher could work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and still not get everything ‘done’, because in teaching it isalways possible to find something you could improve. However, one of the keys to staying in the profession for the long term is to find strategies to manage your workload and achieve a good work/life balance. You need to find ways to be clear about how much work it is realistic for you to take on, particularly if you have children or other caring responsibilities outside of the workplace. You may even find yourself needing to challenge senior leaders about the demands they make of you, and this can be difficult to do.

Being overloaded with work inside and outside the classroom can lead to a build-up of stress, and consequently may have a negative impact on physical and/or mental health. Even though teaching is a vocation, there is no job in the world where it is worth putting your health on the line. Sometimes, a move to a different setting or another role can be all that is needed to get your workload under control. Some schools put a lot more work pressure on their teachers than others, and many schools are actively looking for ways to decrease teacher workload and improve teacher wellbeing. Consider whether your setting adds to, or supports you in, the level of workload you experience – a good leadership team will try to minimise and manage the impact of excessive workload on staff.

In recent years, the DfE has focused on trying to find ways to manage teacher workload. The DfE launched a ‘workload challenge’ and set up a ‘workload advisory group’ to make recommendations on ways to deal with excessive demands. Unfortunately, it seems that the main factors that appear to cause workload – which most of us would probably say are funding and accountability – are the areas where the DfE is unwilling to make adjustments to lessen the load. Although welcome, a focus on ‘wellbeing’ activities is no substitute for a realistic working schedule.

How then can we deal with excessive workload? Paperwork (both virtual and actual) makes up a great deal of a teacher’s job, whether this is to do form filling, assessment and reporting, or planning and marking. We need to develop strategies to be as efficient as possible in the paperwork process. Unfortunately, the nature of teaching can often act against this efficiency, because teachers must find time outside of the hours when the children are in the setting to complete it, and these times are often taken up with meetings or other duties. Aim to handle each piece of paper only once, deciding whether you need to deal with it immediately, delegate it, pass it on, file it, or throw it away. When it comes to sourcing lesson plans and resources, borrow, re-use and share within your networks, to limit the time you spend creating these.

A great tip that I saw many years ago is that teachers must accept that ‘Good enough is good enough’. We cannot afford to be perfectionists, working every hour that is available, especially if that perfectionism is going to lead to an impossible workload. Take care of yourself, because otherwise you will not be in the right position to take care of your children. Remember – adults fit your own oxygen masks first, before you help the children with theirs.

You'll find further advice on how to manage your workload in my downloadable resource: Managing workload.

Sue Cowley

Sue Cowley is a teacher, presenter and author of international CPD bestsellers, including 'Getting the Buggers to Behave' and 'How to Survive in Your First Year of Teaching'.