“To supervise people, you must either surpass them in their accomplishments or despise them.” Benjamin Disraeli
Questions about the purpose of education divide and bedevil: there’s no real agreement about what education is for. But what about teachers? Surely, even if we disagree about what exactly teachers ought to teach we all at least agree they should be teaching children something?
And – at least in theory – I think we do, broadly, agree that teachers should teach. Whatever your ideological stripe, you probably agree that the education of children – whatever that means – is the main thing. Everything else is peripheral.
So why then are so many teachers expected, if not compelled, to do so many things which aren’t in fact teaching? It seems to me that an awful lot of teachers’ workload is for the convenience of managers rather than the education of children.
Marking, planning and data collection are all convenient proxies. Teachers’ work is scrutinised in an effort to ascertain whether it is effective: Does marking follow policy guidelines? Is planning in the form and style mandated? Is data accurate, timely and being acted on expediently? Like all proxies, these things are not the thing itself. We look at marking, planing and data because it’s hard to tell whether teachers are effective at getting students to learn the things they are required to learn. Much easier to check whether teachers are compliant.
There’s nothing wrong per se with checking whether teachers are compliant. In fact, as long as we recognise and remember that proxies and merely proxies and refuse the temptation of turning them into high-stakes accountability measures, all would probably be well. But that’s not what happens.
Teachers are routinely held accountable for the ease with which managers are able to check compliance. If managers can see at a glance that marking is in line with expectations, planning looks good and data in on time and following an upward trend then there’s no need to look in depth at what teachers are teaching and how well they’re teaching it.
If we’re serious about wanting to eliminate unnecessary workload and ensuring that the education of children is the priority of teachers then there is one clear maxim we could follow: The role of teachers should never be to make managers’ lives easier. Instead, the role of leaders should be to strip out extraneous demands so that teachers are free to consider what students are learning and how to help them learn it more effectively.
If school leaders want to spend their time checking proxies, that’s up to them. But to compel teachers to spend time making this process easier robs time away from pupils and is, I’ll go so far as to suggest, immoral.