This week’s blog post is based on an article written by Richard Churches, Robin Hall and Kate Sims and published in the Summer 2022 volume of IMPACT: the Chartered College of Teaching’s journal. The article is a meta-analysis of teacher-led quantitative studies and has been conducted by the Education Development Trust in collaboration with the Department for Education and Teaching Schools Council. It was also helped to form part of a school workload reduction toolkit, published by the Department for Education in 2020.
This meta-analysis reviews a number of quantitative studies, designed and implemented by teachers, which explore the effects of reducing workload. The studies included randomised controlled trials, non-randomised controlled trials and cohort studies, focusing on student attainment, teacher wellbeing and teacher time.
Prior to this meta-analysis being conducted, a review of the main education databases revealed no prior controlled research into the effects of reducing workload on student outcomes. Churches et al. claim that it was important to involve schools directly in this piece of research because a lack of research, accountability pressures and a fear of negative impacts on student attainment, may have prevented schools from reducing workload in the past. This has been particularly evident in areas such as lesson planning, data drops and traditional forms of marking and feedback.
For the schools involved in this research, training was provided for teachers face-to-face and via a research methods textbook. They were also given remote support throughout the project and assistance in interpreting and writing up findings at the end. To identify an initial focus, schools were encouraged to use to the DfE’s School Workload Reduction Toolkit and workload audits. Then, on completion of the projects, the attainment data was synthesised into a meta-analysis.
Example 1: St Bartholomew’s CE First School
This school conducted a randomised controlled trial which explored the risks and benefits of reducing lesson planning to a minimum. Each stage of the research lasted half a term and there were no negative effects on student progress. Teacher wellbeing was also higher in all areas during the period of reduced lesson planning.
Example 2: St Andrew’s School (South London Teaching Schools Alliance)
Three parallel randomised controlled trials were conducted at this school in years 2, 4 and 6. They looked at the extent to which replacing written marking in English with metacognitive learning strategies and live marking, impacted on student outcome and teacher workload. There was a significantly large positive effect on student progress and staff wellbeing was also higher.
Example 3: Hilltop Infants and Junior Schools
Analyses were conducted across all year groups and looked at the effect of revised whole-school communication systems on attainment (teachers’ assessments of reading, writing and mathematics). They detected no significant negative effects on attainment and student progress continued to improve significantly despite teacher workload reduction.
Overall Key Findings
Overall, the findings of this research suggest that the concerns of senior leaders about reducing workload in schools is unfounded and using alternative, ‘workload light’ forms of marking and feedback for example, may even be associated with improved student outcomes.
One of the aims of the meta-analysis was to demonstrate no harm during the period of reduced workload, rather than to hypothesise that reducing workload might improve attainment. However, random effects meta-analysis showed that, across the studies overall, reducing workload was associated with a period of significantly improved student outcomes. Separate analyses for different areas of workload reduction also showed that there was an association between streamlining internal communication systems, reducing data reporting and using alternative forms of marking and feedback, with improved student outcomes. In terms of less invasive lesson observation and monitoring, there was a small positive effect.
Where schools measured teacher wellbeing, there was a significant improvement. There were also reductions on the workaholism scale, which was used to assess the extent to which teachers were working too hard.
One of the most significant findings was in relation to marking and feedback. Using alternative strategies which reduced teacher workload resulted in a significant positive effect on student outcomes and also increased teacher wellbeing. This was particularly relevant when teachers switched to real-time marking and feedback strategies such as direct feedback, correction of misconceptions, and setting targets. It is suggested that this is because these strategies trigger and reinforce students’ metacognitive abilities, something which has already been linked to improved student outcomes.
Churches et al. also speculate on the success of collaborative teacher-led trials on developing evidence-based practice and supporting policy roll-out. Quantitative school-level research has great potential for rolling out policy when testing, learning and iteration are necessary to find solutions on the ground.
The article ends by acknowledging that although the findings from the meta-analysis have been useful, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on teacher workload and wellbeing. Therefore, a second teacher-led research phase is now underway which will build on the first and take into account the effects of COVID-19.
 R. Churches and E. Dommett, Teacher-Led Research: Designing and Implementing Randomised Controlled Trials and Other Forms of Experimental Research, (Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing, 2016).
 B. Davis and D. Woodley, (2020), ‘Reducing teacher workload may improve teacher wellbeing and has no negative effects on student progress’, Conference poster, Department for Education, Available at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/reducing-teacher-workload-education-development-trust-report (Accessed 26 February 2022).
 A. Jamieson and K. Griffin, (2020), ‘Replacing written marking in English with metacognitive learning strategies/live marking’, Conference poster, Department for Education, Available at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/reducing-teacher-workload-education-development-trust-report (Accessed 26 February 2022).
 L. Boroughs, (2020), ‘The effect of implementing simplified and reduced internal school communication on teachers’ perception of workload and wellbeing’, Conference poster, Department for Education, Available at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/reducing-teacher-workload-education-development-trust-report (Accessed 26 February 2022).
 A. Leech, (2020), ‘The effect of implementing simplified and reduced internal school communication on teachers’ perception of workload and wellbeing’, Conference poster, Department for Education, Available at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/reducing-teacher-workload-education-development-trust-report (Accessed 26 February 2022).
 R. Churches, E. Dommett and I. Devonshire, Neuroscience for Teachers: Applying Research Evidence from Brain Science, (Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing, 2017).
 K. Sims, R. Churches and R. Hall, (2021), ‘Mobilising teacher researchers – reducing teacher workload’, BERA Conference Presentation: 21 August 2021. Available at: www.bera.ac.uk/restricted-access?id=25519 (Accessed 4 March 2022).
 R. Churches, E. Dommett and I. Devonshire et al., (2020), ‘Translating the science of learning into practice with teacher-led randomised controlled trials’, Impact, Vol.10, pp. 50–53.