Working ‘smarter, not harder’ at St Bede’s

By Matthew Russell, Assistant Principal at St. Bede’s Catholic Middle School Academy

Teacher workload has always been a priority for us at St Bede’s, as we recognise how hard teachers work and the long hours spent planning, marking and running clubs for pupils outside of school. Even before the introduction of the new Ofsted framework in 2019, all teachers were given above the statutory 10% time for PPA (planning, preparation and assessment) in school. With the ‘work smarter, not harder’ theory being pushed by our headteacher, we have taken several steps to further reduce teacher workload.

For several years, data has only been collected termly in school, with the ownership on the SLT to do the analysis. Staff have therefore only had to input two simple codes each term per pupil they teach. End-of-year reports have been made more teacher friendly, with pre-determined comment banks being selected by teachers (saving them on average an hour and half on a set of reports). These comment banks were written by our staff, so the personalised element of the report has not been lost. Staff meetings have also been reduced, so the Monday night meeting is now only held when necessary rather than meeting ‘for meeting’s sake’ (last term there were only five Monday meetings throughout the entire term).

With the ‘work smarter, not harder’ theory being pushed by our headteacher, we have taken several steps to further reduce teacher workload.

The Progress Test Series provides results for us in seconds, which has been welcomed by staff as it has had a huge impact on their workload being reduced.

Another step was the removal of compulsory homework, which has hugely reduced the amount of marking that teachers are required to do. This was done following investigation on the impact of homework, and the decision was made by the SMT to go against the grain and try something different. Pupils are still required to do spelling, timetables and reading homework, however all of this can be self-marked, peer marked or judged by teachers.

A new marking policy was also created, which clearly stated when each subject would be marked. This ensured that marking was spread out across the year, and not all at the end of term (or at a specific time). This has helped staff to plan their time more efficiently and has therefore raised the standard of teaching and learning in school.

The use of GL Assessment at St Bede’s has also further reduced our marking workload. At the beginning of the academic year, staff are not required to mark any assessments since this is all done automatically. Previously, staff had to mark over thirty sets of papers and enter this data onto spreadsheets to calculate which groups pupils should be in. The Progress Test Series provides results for us in seconds, which has been welcomed by staff as it has had a huge impact on their workload being reduced.

The speed of the results has ensured that pupils are put into the correct groups based on ability within the first week of term – therefore the impact on teachers and pupils has been marked. This is also true at the end of the summer term, where staff do not need to mark end-of-year assessments in English, Maths and Science, since the Progress Test Series does this all for us (with results shared to staff quickly and efficiently).

The Dyslexia and Dyscalculia Screeners have helped the SEN department massively, as these can be set up in minutes and with results back almost instantly, there is no longer a wait for reports to come back from outside agencies. The Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) survey is also an invaluable tool in identifying issues with pupils such as hidden barriers to learning. The taking of the survey and speed of results has allowed our fully trained pastoral team to put interventions in place with pupils instantly.

The impact of the assessments can be seen by our SATs results and our exit data from the Progress Test Series, where pupils leave St Bede’s with over 85% at national expectation or above in both English and maths. Since we started fully using GL Assessment in 2016, SATs results for reading, writing and mathematics have gone up a whopping 41%. Last year saw our best-ever SATs results, with St Bede’s reaching above national expectation for the first time in its history.

St Bede’s Catholic Middle School Academy is one of our Centres of Assessment Excellence

at the end of the summer term, staff do not need to mark end-of-year assessments in English, Maths and Science, since the Progress Test Series does this all for us