This post is a response from a tweet by @C_Hendrick about the impact of constant change on teacher workload. Having been teaching in the UK for nearly 25 years, I have seen plenty of initiatives come and go.
Anyone who questions change runs the risk of being called a Luddite, so I think it is necessary to state that there will, of course, always be change. There are technological advances. There are changes which are needed to fix something which is broken. There are also changes which genuinely yield positive results.
However, the introduction of performance management (Gove’s biggest mistake, which is why I cannot endorse him as a great education secretary, even if I agree with him on curriculum matters), has led to a different sort of change, roughly translating as “initiativitis”. The sequence of events seems to go something like this:
Teacher: I want to move up the scale/ get promotion.
Head/Line manager: You need to do something new which impacts on the whole school.
Teacher: Any ideas?
Head/Line manager : You could set up a project on X. X is part of the school development plan.
The teacher goes away and sets up/joins a working party concentrating on something connected with whatever SLT has decided needs looking at eg, literacy. After a series of meetings, a presentation is made on a training day, followed by a requirement for all staff to adapt their teaching in line with the new policy and document their implementation of it. Teachers have extra work trying to implement the new strategy. The teacher in charge of the initiative ticks the relevant box on their CV and applies for a promoted post in a new school. The teacher leaves. If any evaluation is done at all, it will be on the lines of a survey among pupils who said that they enjoyed working under the new system. The impact of the initiative over time is never evaluated. The initiative dies a death the moment the initiator departs.
In my mind, successful change is one which lasts. Now, with teachers being encouraged to apply for leadership positions as quickly as possible, I fear that lasting changes will become increasingly rarer. The kind of “initiativitis” I have outlined happens at all levels, including SLT. I read about a head teacher whose school received an outstanding judgement from Ofsted in their first year in the job. This particular head overhauled the curriculum over the next two years and then left the school for promotion, having presumably ticked off the “innovation in curriculum design” box on their CV. Soon after leaving, the school was inspected again and received an unsatisfactory grade from Ofsted, resulting in a curriculum overhaul where the school went back to what it was doing before! I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the ordinary teachers whose workload must have been unbearable, both to implement the new idea and then dismantle it.
Of course there are still teachers and school leaders who are less concerned with climbing the ladder as quickly as possible and will therefore be around to answer for the impact of any initiative. So there is still some hope. However, I feel that we (I do include myself!) are becoming an endangered species. In the rush for rapid promotion, CV box ticking becomes ever more vital. Moreover, the initiator won’t be around long enough to evaluate any impact in a meaningful way. Even if the initiative proves disastrous, it will not matter to them, because they will have moved on. In the meantime, everyone else’s workload is pushed up.