Thousands of our own members told us in their responses to ATL's own November 2015 workload survey that the lesson planning process is a considerable issue. In the Government's Workload Challenge survey, published in February of that year, detailed lesson and weekly planning were also identified by over a third (38%) of the respondents as 'adding an unnecessary burden to general workload'.
At the same time, 70% of respondents to ATL's survey believe lesson planning helps them to do their job well.
This apparent contradiction could well stem from the difference between long- and short-term planning, and is echoed in reports from numerous ATL members of having to write detailed plans for each lesson; not for their own requirements, but to satisfy the demands of senior management.
So what can we do to address the current workload situation, when lesson planning is such a vital part of the teaching process?
Good practice is the use of three kinds of plan in parallel:
- an overarching 'roadmap' for the academic year
- the sequence of lessons in each term's learning that will take the class on that road
- an outline for each lesson's activity, each one a step towards the end goal of learning.
However, this strategic work isn't often what school leaders are asking to see. Instead, some request detailed itineraries of what the teacher intends to take place during each lesson of the school day. As we are all painfully aware, the planner has finite resources at their disposal; if a detailed itinerary has to be produced as part of the package, it will be at the expense of vital insight and planning.
Three groups were set up after the Government's Workload Challenge, to examine the three areas identified as the main sources of workload issues and planning was one of them. The findings suggest there is a very difficult balance to be struck between acknowledging the importance of planning and making sure it isn't produced in the wrong way, for the wrong reasons.
The Government Working Group on planning and resources came up with the following five conclusions to guide teachers and leaders.
- Planning a sequence of lessons is more important than writing individual lesson plans
- Fully resourced schemes of work should be in place for all teachers to use each term
- Planning should not be done simply to please outside organisations
- Planning should take place in purposeful and well-defined blocks of time
- Effective planning makes use of high-quality resources
While it's essential that the Government and schools act on the recommendations of all three working groups, teachers also have a part to play in continuing to question the activities we do. Collaborative, long-term planning and sharing resources benefit children's learning, and creativity and professional development.
ATL members are coming together on Twitter and Facebook to offer support and share tips that can help school staff tackle excessive workload and boost work-life balance - and you can join the conversation with the hashtag #Make1Change.