Teacher Workload: After the Standards

There was a small sigh of relief when the Rt Hon. Chris Hipkins announced that National Standards were no longer a government requirement for primary schools to use. Okay; it was more of a large cheer than a small sigh, but suddenly we are nigh on six months from that announcement, and as a teacher, I’m not seeing much of a decrease in workload.

Yet we’re assured that the government is working to reduce paperwork in the teaching profession.

When announcing the scrapping of National Standards, Hipkins got rid of the four point ruler for measuring children, but ensured that teacher workload remained high. You see, he said that “Parents will still receive reports at least twice a year on their child’s progress and achievement in maths, reading and writing as well as across the curriculum areas. But this reporting will focus on children’s progress, rather than measuring them against arbitrary National Standards.” – Chris Hipkins

So now, not only do we have to continue to report to parents twice a year (suggested at every 6 months), we are now also commenting across all of the curriculum areas.

You see; National Standards themselves did not add any extra work to the teacher workload. We already know from day in and day out interactions with the students, whether a student is below, at, or above – and so making that call took a matter of minutes and a slightly different grey shade on the report. The issue teachers had with National Standards was largely around the barbaric way it labelled children as failures, and was too broad in its measure to show any progress students might have made.

No; it wasn’t National Standards themselves that caused an insurmountable amount of additional workload. It was the need to report to parents formally in written form twice a year.

Prior to that, parents would usually have a parent/teacher meeting in the middle of the year to chat about how their child was doing, and a written report at the end of the year as a summary of how well their child was doing. Evidently this wasn’t enough. Too many children were slipping through the gaps and failing. We needed to keep parents informed on their child’s progress (or lack of) so that we could catch them before they fell through.

Except, now; with the requirement of two written reports, teacher’s workload doubled. But not just in writing screeds and screeds of reports. Teacher’s also need to gather data on each student, test them (and re-test them), anaylise their data, and compare it to an arbitrary set of benchmarks in order to see their progress. Instead of doing this at the start of the year to inform teaching and then repeating in Term 4 to write a summative report, we are now carrying out these tests throughout the year, to spread the workload out, and to be able to write two reports.

So while the National Standards have been scrapped, their remnants still remain, and continue to add to the workload and stress being experienced by teachers across the country.

Time for some Maths.

In our school’s current reporting format (which is largely based off a Ministry approved/suggested template) I have written on average 105 words for each of the Reading, Writing, and Maths curriculum areas. This includes the current progress a child is making and their next learning steps. That’s 315 words per report. My current class has 31 students in it. That’s 9,765 words. Double that because we report twice a year, and add some on for a General comment on the final report, and we’re bordering on 20,000 words each year in reports. To give an idea of how much this is, a Massey University Research Report worth 60 credits should not exceed 20,000 words, and a 90 credit Thesis paper should not exceed 30,000 words.

Every year.

What’s the solution? There’s no easy way to say this; but getting rid of the mid year report and replacing it with parent meetings seems the only way to bring the workload back to something more manageable. In my experience, there are parents of below expectation students who are aware they are below. Parents who don’t know their child is below the expectation are usually ones who a) aren’t actively helping in any way and won’t help in any way just because it’s written on a piece of paper, or b) aren’t all that concerned. This is a generalisation, sure; but I suspect that parents who care about their child’s education are going to be aware of where their child is in relation to where they’re expected to be without the need for it to be written down in a report. I also suspect that making parents who don’t care about their child’s education aware of where their child is in relation to where they’re expected to be isn’t going to change the amount of care or effort that they are going to be willing to invest in order to make any sizeable difference.

Therefore, the need to report twice a year is somewhat redundant. It’s created twice the workload, and stretched assessment throughout the year (instead of letting the teacher teach throughout the year) and adds to the stress without actually adding anything to education.

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