Nicky Morgan wants to ban work emails after 5pm

In an article in the Telegraph today the education secretary Nicky Morgan referred to the excessive workload that is starting to affect recruitment and retention of teachers.  The message the newspaper chose to focus on was the suggestion that teachers should not be answering emails or marking work after 5pm.

Unfortunately cutting out emails isn’t going to make much difference but she touched upon something that could.  Nicky referred to sharing planning as a way to reduce workload.  Of course teachers will always have to adapt plans to suit the needs of an individual group but it is the idea of working smart where she hits the mark.

Working smart

Be organised.  This sounds like a given but I spent years as an AST working with failing teachers and one of the traits they had in common was an inability to manage their time and workloads.

Bin paperwork – be paperless as far as possible. Store worksheets and marks electronically. Share these with colleagues and use them as a starting point for future lessons.

Plan smart – use peer assessment, self marking and computer marking to help reduce your workload.  Create a departmental marking policy that works to maximise impact rather than trying to tick boxes for Ofsted.  Unfortunately marking is coming under more scrutiny as Ofsted look for effectiveness of teaching over time.  Keep comments brief and give students opportunity to respond to marking – and mark this on the next cycle.  It might sound onerous but it can work to reduce workload once students are trained.

To do lists are closely related to planning.  I keep mine in Outlook – I use tasks and I flag emails for follow-up.  I can access this list wherever I am.  Different people use different systems but find something that works for you.

Have a structure – whether it be for paperwork (I’m probably about 90% paper-free now) or for the files on your computer.  Don’t just drop files on the desktop – it’s easy at the time but you will want them later.

Embrace technology – most teachers use technology now to create worksheets and resources, but create lesson plans electronically. Reuse and share them. I plan on my Outlook calendar – easy to share if I’m out of school as well. Create your diary online and calendar your planning and marking.  Rota in which class books you will mark and when.  SIMS (or your MIS) is your friend – use it to your advantage to log positive and negative behaviour, communication with parents etc.

Be disciplined.  I dread to think of how many hours over the year I’ve spent in the prep room or the staff room chatting.  This has a valuable function in keeping stress levels down, but an hour of PPA time spent marking is an hour earlier you can stop work that evening.

Work as a team.  Primary schools embraced joint planning years ago, secondary schools are starting to catch up with this now.  Divide the workload and spread it out.  Make sure all members of the team are clear in their expectations and responsibilities – for example knowing the deadlines for writing a unit of work and where to save it on the server when done.

Delegate tasks and responsibilities.  Ask the TA with the group to phone a parent and log the call, or ask trusted students to straighten the room at the end of the lesson.  Ask your team members for help with generating ideas, but don’t take on work that isn’t yours.

Learn when to say no and be assertive.  Don’t be afraid to say “I’m sorry I can’t do this tonight – I don’t have time”.  You could follow that up with a comment like “but I’ll have it done before the weekend”.  This also applies to needless paperwork and planning.

Work life balance.  It has been said that you should work to live, not live to work. Whilst teachers love their jobs (or the ones that stay in the profession do!) there is more to life that school.  Switch off, relax and do something else.  I have a long drive that acts as a buffer zone between home and school, and a dog that needs a lot of walking.

There is a lot that teachers can do to help themselves, but we have to accept that teaching isn’t a 9-5 job.  Those that manage to fit their work into those hours are either not doing everything they should or have an alternative career as a time management consultant ahead of them should they tire of teaching.

Have you any suggestions for reducing teacher workload?  Please leave a comment below.

Educake for Science – self-marking GCSE homework questions @educake

I’ve seen MyMaths in action and was impressed by the usefulness and flexibility of the package.  I wondered if there was a self-marking system for science.  The best tool I found was Educake which offers self-marking questions testing content from AQA Science.  The pricing structure is very reasonable and gives departments the opportunity to try the package before committing.

Getting students to register seems to be a little bit of a hurdle and is the one aspect of the site that requires improvement.  Students are provided with a link that lets them sign up and links their account to that of the school.  I used bitly to shorten this address to make it easier to distribute to students.  There is a requirement that students have an email address and that they use this to sign up.  In an ideal world the teacher would create the signups by importing a CSV from the school’s information management system like SIMS.  I could see a potential safeguarding issue if students signed up using a personal email address (as the site encourages) and then this is available to teachers through the student management pages.  Teachers can reset student passwords so the email address could easily be removed by a small amount of recoding.

Setting a test is quite easy (if you are familiar with AQA topics from the specification) and questions are graded in three levels of difficulty.  You can assign the tests to different groups of students and set a deadline if required.

The tests are a good idea but assume that students have fairly good literacy skills.  Further work to improve the accuracy of the marking algorithms would stop errors like evaporate being refused where the system was looking for evaporation (although I can accept this would depend on how the question was worded).

Statistics are available at the end that show how the students have done, and give you an idea of areas that you might need to revisit.  The ability to export results is available in paid versions of the website.

I’ve enjoyed using Educake and my students have too (despite the initial teething troubles).  I look forward to continuing to use it over the rest of the year and will post updates as it develops and improves.


The IPEVO document camera – a cheap alternative to a visualiser

The IPEVO camera set up that I received consisted of three separate parts – the document camera itself, a carry case and an extension stand to give it extra height.

The packaging that the camera arrived in had foam cut-outs which could make the carrycase an unnecessary purchase in this time of restricted budgets. The build quality of the camera looks a little cheap, although it doesn’t feel like it is going to drop to bits when you hold it. The camera comes with a clip (which my year 9’s showed me how to attach to my laptop) and a stand for functioning as a document camera. The extension stand is really needed to give extra height and should really come bundled with the camera rather than as an optional extra.

The camera functioned well, although when left in continuous/autofocus mode it would often keep adjusting the focus, so the manual focus mode was preferable. The way it focussed on objects meant I was able to get a sharp clear image (although when the focus was lost it took a couple of seconds to refocus). I found the images in good light clearer and sharper than those of my Avermedia visualiser. The camera could also be pointed around the classroom or used like a webcam to show demonstrations adding to its versatility.

The software for using the document camera is simple to use, well thought through and very good. Again I prefer the IPEVO camera software to the Avermedia software that comes with their visualisers.

Time will tell how durable the camera and stand turn out to be, but I would expect a slightly better build quality at this price point, however for those looking for a document camera this could be a worthy purchase.

From Amazon – IPEVO camera £55, Case £19, Height extending stand £22

What I liked about the IPEVO cam:

  • The software
  • The stand makes it easy to position the camera
  • The camera has many uses – and the laptop mount just adds to these

What I didn’t like

  • The build quality
  • The price – I’m not sure if the advertised price includes VAT but if it does it needs to be reduced
  • The case and stand being sold separately – they should be sold as a bundled package
  • I got interference patterns on images of paper when using artificial lighting
  • The camera often refocuses when on auto-focus