Can technology help the most overburdened teachers in Europe? 

Once again, teacher workload is in the news. The issue has been at crisis point for some time, and its impact on retaining members of the profession is profound.

Recent figures from the 2019 Teaching and Learning International Survey show that teachers in England work more hours than anywhere else in Europe. Our secondary school educators pledge, on average, 47 hours a week to developing their students – nearly 10 hours more than the European average.

Some will say that teaching has always been a demanding profession where going ‘above and beyond’ is the norm. Others will say that teaching is a vocation which calls for dedication and passion, and which is impossible to ‘switch off’ from come the end of the day.

However, if we look carefully at the root causes of the strain being put on teachers, it’s rarely the actual teaching aspect of the job which raises problems, it’s the non-teaching aspects.

It’s worth remembering comments made just over a year ago by Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the NEU: “The continual long hours spent on unnecessary work such as data collection for arbitrary government targets is not only demoralising but is unsustainable mentally and physically.” 

Retention rates are down, with a third leaving the profession before they reach the five year mark. Teachers and unions have essentially been saying the same thing for a long while now: admin is killing the joy of the job. 

Adopting a new solution

This year’s Education Technology Strategy unveiled by the Department for Education did instill a sense of direction. A technologically emboldenedTeacher and students from Europe in a science class, using technology Damian Hinds pledged to strip away workload that doesn’t add value in the classroom and give teachers the time to focus on teaching.

But, while the sentiment is laudable, what’s still lacking is concrete guidance on how this can be achieved. Importantly, schools need support on how to balance lowering workloads whilst improving measurement and increasing accountability; tasks which simply call for more work to be done.

Investing in technology might be the strongest argumentfor Hinds to ‘have it both ways’ in terms of improving measurement and accountability while managing workload and positively impacting teacher retention. 

Mirroring the use of data in the commercial world, we now see more sophisticated adoption of analytics in education – with tech-enabled virtual learning environments powering this move. A learning management platform, such as Canvas, that is fully embedded in your school and used properly, helps save time by automating administrative tasks and reporting processes, driving better teacher and student collaboration, and a less admin-heavy approach to teaching and learning.

Whilst some teachers may be concerned of automated systems removing control from the classroom, the right learning management platform and technology partner will not only replace old, time consuming systems and approaches that are not fit for modern teaching but also enable a new way of working that actually frees up teachers’ time to do what they do best – teach. 

Better measurement allows educators to understand students’ learning behaviours, which courses are being consumed and where students are excelling or struggling. This allows them to personalise students’ learning journeys and demonstrate added value.

Why automation works

So, automation should no longer be a dirty word in education. Indeed, just as students have to prepare for an increasingly automated workforce, and adapt their skills accordingly, teachers need to do the same. This means seeing technology as an opportunity to change how teachers educate and measure, as well as to tackle the untenable levels of admin.

And with continued pressure over Ofsted results, technology can help schools retain or shoot for ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ ratings. Freeing up teacher time to focus more attention on students is exactly the kind of practice that inspectors will be keeping a close eye on as part of the refined requirements around Quality of Education in the framework.

Further to this, Instructure’s ability to capture data on learners in a more sophisticated way via the Canvas learning management platform has also fundamentally changed the way that schools can measure progress. Instead of standardised tests, which measure the ability to absorb and regurgitate rote materials, ongoing assessment must appraise research skills, applied knowledge, and practical ability. These tools are vital in paving the way to employment and beyond. 

The need for education to embrace automation is two-fold - develop technologically and reap the rewards of next-level data analysis or stand-still and risk missing out on the high level Ofsted ratings that are so sought after by educational institutions.

There is an opportunity to both manage workload issues and take a more in-depth approach to embrace measurement and learning. However, for this to work, automation needs to be positively viewed and education technology needs to be embraced, even by the most traditional of educators. 

Sam Blyth

Director of Schools, FE & Learning Providers – Europe

Canvas by Instructure

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