It’s unlikely anyone would choose teaching as a career because they enjoy filling in forms and filing, yet paperwork has become a big part of the job.
Recently released NZCER surveys have shown that teachers believe compliance and paperwork are taking them away from their core work with students.
The New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) National Survey of Primary and Intermediate Schools 2016 showed that about two-thirds of principals worked 56 hours or more each week, and 42 per cent reported high or very high stress levels.
Only around a third of principals thought their workload was manageable or sustainable, the study found, with an increase in respondents seeking more time for the essence of their work – education leadership – and less spent on administration and paperwork.
New educators are also feeling overwhelmed, with a NZEI Te Riu Roa survey of 288 new teachers showing that 17 per cent expect to leave the profession within five years of graduating. High workloads, too much paperwork and low pay were cited as key reasons.
“I do enjoy teaching; however, the paperwork is huge and not the best pay while you are just starting out,” said one survey respondent.
This situation has been acknowledged by the new Government. Labour’s Education Manifesto made mention of the issue in its first paragraph: “The way we live and work continues to change rapidly, so too do the demands we place on our education system. However, too often creativity and innovation is being hampered by government red tape and compliance requirements.
“Increasingly teachers and educationalists tell us that they’re spending so much time testing and filling in forms to satisfy bureaucratic accountability requirements that they don’t have enough time to do what they’re actually there to do – teach,” it says.
The document promises to address paperwork specifically.
“Labour will establish a joint task-force with the teaching profession to reduce the amount of compliance-focused paperwork teachers are required to complete so that they can return their focus to what really matters – teaching and learning,” it states.
For secondary teachers, student marking and moderation makes up a large proportion of the paperwork, but it’s more complicated than that.
A 2016 report by the Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) from its Workload Working Group highlighted concerns about the sheer weight of the administrative tasks now expected to be completed by teachers.
“There is a range of administrative work associated with (secondary) teaching, leadership and pastoral care, including reporting, meetings, data collection, management and analysis, surveys, parent contact, health and safety, organising relief, photocopying, NCEA administration tasks (e.g. record keeping, data analysis), appraisal and registration requirements, special education applications, IT management and support,” the report states.
“These are often delegated from the principal to senior leaders to departments and middle leaders and teachers. Administration tasks are often shared with support staff, and reductions in support staff hours or numbers can affect the balance of that work.”
The PPTA Workload Working Group found that teachers in middle management positions, in addition to high teaching loads, were especially affected by increases in such tasks.
“Middle leaders and teachers see much of the administration work they do as unproductive and time consuming. They have limited time in the working day to manage increases in administration and are frustrated with the largely unproductive nature of the work. Much of it is seen as having no impact on teaching and learning but rather being compliance driven. It is a distraction from teaching and teaching-related activities,” the report states.
PPTA president Jack Boyle believes the amount of paperwork that teachers are now expected to undertake is getting out of hand.
“I believe it’s grown exponentially over the past decade,” he says.
“As a teacher, you’re accountable to your students and their whānau, your colleagues and your school, and your community. But the problem is in how that accountability is demonstrated.”
Boyle lists assessment and moderation, teacher inquiry and the reporting around it, Education Council compliance work and documents pertaining to Education Review Office visits as just the beginning.
“Then there are also, unfortunately, examples of over-engineering at the school level, which generates another set of compliance for teachers,” he says.
“In the case of teacher inquiry, this work is really important, but it’s moved from being a simple ‘I tried this, and it didn’t work for this reason’, to a stash of documents that need to be presented and distributed to a range of people, including school leaders, boards and the Education Council.
“The compliance and documentation has, I believe, lost sight of its original intention, which was to help teachers improve their teaching.
“A lot of it seems to be paperwork as proof of having done other paperwork. It comes down to a lack of general trust in teachers’ judgement as professionals.”
Interrupting good teaching
Liam Rutherford, a year 7 and 8 teacher at Ross Intermediate in Palmerston North, is this year working with teachers to support collaborative practices across the school.
Rutherford says that much of the paperwork all New Zealand teachers are now expected to do interrupts the core job of classroom teaching
“Teachers really want to be doing sports, arts and cultural activities, and all the things we know make a huge difference to a child’s learning and holistic development,” he says.
“I tend to think about it in terms of the job’s workload in general. There are lots of different streams, but right in the centre of that is paperwork, particularly administrative kind of stuff. You have to do that first before you can get onto the big, important things.”
This paperwork includes researching and planning a year’s curriculum, adapting it for individual students and putting systems in place to track progress.
Then there’s planning and moderation with fellow teachers to ensure consistency across a school. Teachers also are required to take and distribute notes from team and school meetings and write reports. There is also an expectation to record data from parent teacher conferences.
Documents need to be safely filed away, but Rutherford says technology has made that a lot easier in recent years.
“Using G Suite [cloud-based software] means you never really have to move documents and emails because they can be safely stored in the cloud – although there can be a learning curve for teachers understanding how best to use these systems. But once they’re up and running, they can be invaluable,” he says.
Student management systems are also integral for writing reports and storing assessment data.
However, Rutherford is quick to point out that some paperwork is beneficial to teacher development and student learning.
“Professional development is something that comes with an increased workload attached, but at the same time there is great value in it. The Education Council’s professional standards are also very important, but at the same time the compliance work around these is not work done with students.”
A drive in many schools to forge stronger partnerships with whānau is another example.
“There’s a real push for community engagement too and schools are always looking for ways to connect with whānau to support student learning. Much of this can be done online, through blogs and apps like SeeSaw.”
Forms that need to be filled out and returned, money for trips and activities and newsletters will be familiar to all parents with children at school.
“The majority of these forms at our school are templated; we’re constantly looking for shortcuts and efficiencies. It differs between schools, but permission slips and similar forms are usually managed by the classroom teacher,” says Rutherford.
“I’ve got spreadsheets for Africa on my computer! But it’s a complex issue – some paperwork relates to Ministry of Education requirements; some is for ERO and some is classroom and school-based. The solution isn’t going to be fixed by one particular saspect changing.
“We need to sit down and acknowledge that a high teacher workload has adverse effects on student learning,” he says.
“I don’t think any teachers have a passion for administration work – we’re passionate about education and working with young people.”