DFE advice on student teacher workload misses what is learnt by planning lessons

Caroline Daly.

The Department for Education has been looking for ways to reduce teacher workload. This week it published two further reports – one on shrinking the burden of data collection, and another called Addressing teacher workload in Initial Teacher Education, offering guidance to providers. It is that guidance I’d like to address.

While the impetus behind these publications is to be welcomed, I think we need to be wary of cutting the wrong corners. One suggestion that particularly caught my eye was: ‘How have you reviewed your provision to develop trainees to focus on planning a sequence of lessons rather than writing individual lesson plans?’

Why do I pick out this example?

As a teacher educator and external examiner of teacher training provision I strongly believe that student teachers need to learn how to plan lessons that are increasingly effective – specific lessons, in detail, with actual pupils in mind. It’s simply vital – so much so that I’m surprised that anyone would suggest otherwise.

Planning for individual lessons is a learning tool. Progression for a student teacher includes developing a wider, more adventurous range of teaching approaches that motivate their pupils and increasingly address their diverse needs. This is not the same as implementing template guides or ‘off the peg’ schemes of work, no matter how good they are. Becoming a qualified teacher means – rightly – being able to go further than that. Planning lessons requires student teachers to think deeply about important aspects of effective teaching. Expectations grow as the training year develops. That is different from progressing to planning sequences of lessons. That is also important, but is not a substitute for attention to focusing on the quality of individual teaching episodes.

Poor progress by a student teacher is very often rooted in surface-level knowledge of how to plan. As an examiner I’ve frequently observed student teachers at risk of failing, and nearly every conversation I’ve had with them about a disappointing lesson has trailed back to a flawed understanding of what needed to be in place to help the pupils to learn. This has always been shown most tangibly in the lesson plan. Learning how to plan is a major part of learning how to manage classrooms – trying to identify where a lesson went wrong is difficult if a student teacher does not have a detailed plan for which they have taken responsibility.

This is not to say that teachers must always ‘reinvent the wheel’ and plan every lesson from scratch. My point is that planning lessons is core to how teachers learn, throughout their training year.

Please, let’s not view planning lessons alongside administrative chores and data management as something that is a poor use of student teachers’ time. Let’s not lower expectations that student teachers will focus on the detail of what their learners actually do to learn, throughout a lesson – this is a fundamental part of learning to be a teaching professional.

The DfE request is based on recommendations from the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group, and reducing all teachers’ workload is of course a serious priority. That is separate from the fact that student teachers are learners and protected time should be spent on learning. Yes, we do all need to be explicit about the purposes of lesson planning and ITE providers should indeed also emphasise the importance of planning sequences of lessons. Lesson planning should not be used to produce burgeoning evidence files or to satisfy misguided fears that this is ‘what Ofsted wants’.  Lesson plans are far more important than that.

The most productive use of time is when a mentor spends time planning with the student teacher, co-teaching and reviewing how the lesson went, looking back to the plan as the basis for understanding what has been effective or otherwise. That’s where the real changes in workload are needed: we need a revised vision of how time should be spent – by all teachers – to grow the profession, from within.

Let student teachers learn how to teach, not expect them to take on those burdensome tasks that are not about developing classroom practice. This is an issue which is further complicated because so many student teachers are, of course, employed by their schools.

We need to insist that student teachers have time to learn to plan lessons and to be able to identify where the problems in their teaching (and classroom behaviour) are coming from. That means reducing time spent on other activities – such as multiple assessment loads, data management, admin or covering for other teachers. The DfE advice is well-intentioned – but it is based on a worrying misunderstanding about what lesson planning actually is.




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Posted in Education policy, Teachers and teaching assistants, Teaching, learning, curriculum & assessment
6 comments on “DFE advice on student teacher workload misses what is learnt by planning lessons
  1. Brendan says:

    Planning is important, as it has always been, in learning to teach. What has changed in the current era of excessive focus on accountability and managerialist approaches to planning, is that our students have become ever more burdened year by year by ever greater demands to document what they do. Rolling back the managerialist overload is overdue, and, as within the profession itself, result in more job satisfaction and less student stress. The job is hard enough.

  2. Caroline is right. Lesson planning is not a chore. It is the second most creative (and therefore pleasurable) part of being a teacher. The most creative part is reflecting on that lesson plan, which for a newly qualified teacher should include discussing the plan and the lesson with the HoD/teacher colleagues, and the most pleasurable is when a well-planned lesson goes well and the teacher gets rewarding feedback from the pupils. This is most likely to be non-verbal and take the form of signals that indicate enthusiasm and engagement. A good example is when ‘time flies’ for the teacher and the pupils and the bell to signal the end of the lesson comes as an unwelcome surprise.

    The dread word that signals a school culture that fails to understand this is ‘delivery’. It is not possible to ‘deliver’ inspirational lessons. However, ‘compliance’ CAN be delivered and while this is always better than chaos and disorder, it is a long way from the best. The DfE is ideologically committed to the ‘delivery’ model and encourages and supports Academy MATs that impose this onto their teachers. This is part of a planned international movement spreading outwards from its birthplace in the neo-conservatism of the US. I write about this here.


    and here.


    Matthew Bennett has documented the growth of the ‘delivery’ model of teaching in which ‘lesson planning’ is taken away from teachers, whose role is incrementally de-professionalised and dis-empowered. The ‘tools’ for this include increasingly abusive school discipline and the move towards ‘teacher-free’ individualised ‘training packages’ by computers. See


  3. Brendan says:

    The argument is not against lesson planning, it is against the ever increasing demands upon teachers and student teachers to document what they do. Excessive accountability measures, including ever more demanding planning expectations, underpin the delivery model rather than undermine it.

  4. Definitely learning to plan lessons should be the first thing to be learnt for a successful teaching experience in future.

  5. Hundasmenu says:

    I do not remember being taught how to plan individual lessons during my ITT, perhaps this could be incorporated into the ITT subject areas. As for my school placement, I remember the class teacher relied on ‘slides’ from colleagues which she would look at 5 minutes before the lesson and never went through a lesson plan or planning process with me as she hardly had time. This makes a student’s life difficult as they are expected to produce plans when there is no support from the school. Expecting them to produce plans in advance when the teachers themselves have no plan until the morning is stressful. Makes it even worse when the ITT provider sends demeaning and unhelpful messages to you asking for lesson plans. So whose job is it to teach student teachers how to plan? Schools using student teachers as cover staff is also a problem. ITT providers should check where they send their trainee students as they seem to send them to schools who have no consideration for student workload and training needs.

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