Time is key for healing children’s COVID-19 education and wellbeing wounds

How can school leaders give teachers back more child time?

Ofsted’s second report on the effects of COVID-19 has revealed the true educational damage on young people. It reveals loss of stamina in reading, writing and physical fitness alongside signs of mental distress for some students.

It makes for pretty grim reading, but all is not lost. We might be in and out of lockdown, but schools are open, which means our young people have access to teachers who are relentless in their commitment to rebalancing educational inequalities and providing valuable support.

So, it’s never been more critical to reduce workloads for teachers and support staff to give them back more child time.

Here are some tools and strategies school leaders can put in place to help create more time to focus on supporting the individual needs of pupils:

  1. Reducing the burden of data management in school

If you ask a school head why they are using a data system such as a pupil tracker, they will say it is to improve pupil outcomes. The ability to easily spot gaps in learning or see a downward trend in literacy for pupils on free school meals appearing over time, allows teachers and school leaders to target strategies to support pupils quickly.

Occasionally however, the focus becomes the data itself and the end goal can get blurred. At this point, entering school data becomes a bureaucratic burden.

Take the example of a school which is tracking outcomes using the national curriculum objectives in reading, writing, maths and science. That’s a total of 218 learning objectives in the Year 6 curriculum.

With 32 pupils in the class, that would amount to over 20,000 assessment outcomes a year if you assume each child has to move through the three outcomes of ‘not understanding’ to ‘understood’ for each objective.

That represents 20,000 boxes to tick, or data entry points – time which would be better spent with children.

The mantra with data, therefore, has to be less is more. Record only meaningful progress information and reuse the same data many times.

Start by examining how you can use the same data for multiple uses. Can you make the same information work for monitoring pupil progress, curriculum and intervention planning, reporting to parents, to governors and other stakeholders?

This will help you shape a more effective approach to managing your pupil data which focuses on what’s important, without taking up valuable time.

“By streamlining the way you collect, enter and monitor your data, you will reduce unnecessary work and sharpen the focus on what’s important – improving pupils’ outcomes”

Have a look at how many different systems are used in your school; are teachers re-keying the same information in different places? It’s worth asking yourself whether it would be possible to use just one system to avoid duplication.

One key consideration is how well your pupil tracker aligns with your management information system (MIS). This will help you link a pupil’s progress with key details about that pupil, for example their family circumstances or educational needs, giving you a fuller picture of the child.

By streamlining the way you collect, enter and monitor your data, you will reduce unnecessary work and sharpen the focus on what is important – improving pupils’ outcomes.

  1. Making marking and feedback count

School leaders know that meaningful feedback needs to be delivered in a way that motivates children to make good progress.

A positive comment or piece of constructive guidance on a child’s work can build confidence, help them develop critical analysis skills and encourage them to reach their learning goals. But marking and providing feedback can be so time-consuming for your team of teachers, eating into their work-life balance and hoovering up precious child time.

One way to reduce the burden of marking on teachers is to look at the technology and tools you have access to that can help teachers to work more efficiently and effectively. Are these tools helping to provide valuable feedback to children across your school?

You might also like: How are students staying connected and informed during COVID-19?

Perhaps teachers are finding they are having to tick success criteria in exercise books, then record this progress electronically. Instead, using a pupil tracker could allow teachers to assess pupils against objectives during the lessons, saving the need for ‘double-handling’.

Many MIS and pupil trackers provide the option to give personalised feedback in a visual format, which can be quicker than giving verbal feedback. Or linking photos and videos to statements as evidence of pupil attainment can save time as it eliminates the requirement to write details of what has been observed. Both solutions offer a more visual option and can also be fun for pupils.

Enabling teachers to work smarter – not harder – when it comes to marking, saves hours of time that can be spent supporting students.

  1. Communicating the right way

One of the biggest problems that any organisation faces is how to keep the right people informed, in the right way and at the right time. Get it wrong and you risk leaving someone out of the loop, while others are swamped with calls, meetings and emails.

Start with preparing a straw poll on how staff in your school prefer to communicate. Email tends to be the mainstay of work communications, but some people respond better to text, group chats or a good old-fashioned phone call.

The use of email at night or weekends is always a contentious issue, especially when some members of staff actually prefer to manage their workload by attending to emails when they have a quiet few hours at home, citing that it helps their wellbeing. So, a blanket ban on out-of-hours email is not always the answer.

Instead, if you have not done so already, consider making it a policy across the school that any emails drafted outside of hours, say between 6pm and 7am, are delayed so they are delivered during working hours.

Any time you spend looking at your existing technology, streamlining channels and trying out new, more useful communication tools will be time well spent. It will help to eliminate lost messages and inbox overload and make it easier for everyone to focus on the business of teaching and learning.

Time well spent

The time you spend understanding how and where the pressure points are for teachers in your school will always be worthwhile. It will help you to cut out unnecessary administration and other tasks that are preventing teachers from focussing on what they do best – boosting pupils’ learning and achievement.

Lower workloads unlock more child time, and this is ultimately what teachers need more of to make a difference and help heal children’s COVID-19 education and wellbeing wounds.

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