When teachers are at school, most of their time is spent face-to-face with students. But outside of the classroom, teachers must dedicate time to marking and assessing work as well as planning lessons. Planning usually involves mapping out lesson content, preparing materials and teaching strategies.

This can be time-consuming and can significantly add to the workload. The Department for Education has taken steps over the years to emphasise the importance of addressing excessive teacher workload. In order to reduce the number of teachers leaving the profession and encourage more entrants to teach.

However, a paper published in 2020 by Greer and Daly stated that for teacher workload to be reduced, the workforce must be central to its own reform; without significant shifts in perceptions of ‘work’ by all members of school communities, nothing can change [1].

Whitley Bay High School

Whitley Bay High School have gained national recognition for their innovative methods of reducing teacher workload.

They recognised that reducing their teacher’s workload is up to them, so they have put measures in place to eliminate time-consuming lesson plans and teachers independently planning lessons. Instead, they have developed a whole-school framework, principles, and methodology for departmental shared lesson planning.

The aims of this are:

  • To reduce workload
  • To improve quality of teaching and learning in every classroom
  • To incorporate staff development in the process

Whitely Bay knew that teachers spent too long planning lessons. Planning work was replicated many times with teachers planning lessons independently of each other, even when teaching the same subject and year group. Consequently, students are at risk of receiving an uneven and unequal learning experience.

Shared Planning

The Whitley Bay School believe that there is a distinction between “joint planning” and “shared planning”.

Joint Planning: This involves a small number of people planning on a short-term basis. Although this method of planning is great for collaborative idea sharing, it does not save time.

Shared Planning: Involves a middle leader strategically convening a team of teachers to plan a module of lessons; the process involves the delegation of planning and is overseen and accountable.

Shared planning enables the consistent delivery of high calibre lessons across a department or school as well as distributing the workload.

By nature, it also has a training impact. Teaching standards rise through the process of joint lesson modelling. Each lesson is taught by everyone in the department which motivates staff to teach with consistency.

Whitley Bay School has reported that shared planning has resulted in teachers raising their game, as well as developing their teaching styles through the sharing of techniques between colleagues.

How shared planning works…

  • The department heads  and teaching team come together to plan the same work modules
  • Together, they decide how many lessons they should plan, the content, knowledge and skills, the nature of learning, homework etc
  • The department head divides the lessons up after considering experience, expertise, and interests
  • In a 20 lesson module, each teacher has 4 lessons to plan – the other 16 are planned for them

School and Departmental Culture

For shared planning to be effective, the whole school structure and collective attitude of the teaching community needs to be refined. Leadership teams must consider how open their staff are to adopting a new planning strategy.

Additionally, everyone in a department will need to agree on what good planning and good teaching looks like. All members of the shared planning team need to agree on levels of student engagement; how much time in lessons is spent with the teacher talking, how much time is pair work and how much time is group work.

The Importance of Middle Leaders

In shared planning, middle leaders such as heads of departments are fundamental to leading constructive lesson planning meetings. As well as sharing good practice and developing the skills of their colleagues. They should:

  • Identify priorities for planning
  • Understand the skills and attributes of their team
  • Enable the careful structuring and planning of courses, particularly new GCSE’s
  • Build a departmental culture of sharing and equal accountability
  • Utilise the skills of the best planners and teachers to share good practice with those who struggle
  • Delegate tasks where appropriate
  • Evaluate and improve the curriculum
  • Encourage the team to bond as a group so that everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas

It is up to senior leadership teams to develop these skills in department heads. There should be an emphasis on a whole school culture when developing the skills of middle leaders.

Heads of departments need the understanding and skills to utilise departmental meetings for modelling, training, and planning. The whole school principles of shared planning need to be understood by every middle leader.

Shared Planning in English

After 5 years of using shared planning methods, Whitley Bay has developed a strong planning structure in the English department.

Every year during the September training days, the Head of the English Department trains the department by planning two lessons and teaching them to the rest of the team. Thereby, showing what they think makes good teaching, good lesson pace and effective use of resources.

In 2020, the English department of Whitely Bay recognised that all lessons for Macbeth needed developing. During lesson planning, teachers were delegated various scenes and acts from the play to plan, as well as lessons that explored the themes of the play.

The planned lessons were then distributed across the department, for teachers to use as and when they needed to.

All planning is uploaded to the SharePoint digital planning system, which is meticulously organised and maintained. Members of the department can log on to the system to tweak and adapt plans.

Shared Planning in Science

The science department also embraced shared planning. As with many large science departments, science is often taught out of specialism, with teachers who are experts in particular fields, teaching their own area of science.

It is the job of the Head of Science to identify which members of the science team should plan which topic, ensuring that these lessons are planned in a way that is accessible to non-specialist members of the team.

For example, biology teachers will plan biology lessons, but they keep in mind that some of these lessons will be taught by physics teachers. The content should be correct but not excessive, so those non-specialist teachers can deliver the lesson with quality.

Shared Planning in Maths

Maths groups in the school are set so lessons are not shared in the same way as English and Science. Set 1 and Set 7 will be teaching a similar topic in a very different way.

Custom made booklets are made by the department which is full of activities and problems. Teachers plan their lessons around these booklets. The books have the same content but are taught differently depending on what set is being taught. The booklets ensure that all specifications are taught.

The responsibility for the development of the maths booklets is shared across the department, and the whole process is monitored, overseen and quality assured by the head of department.

Homework and assessments are delegated, developed, pre-made and copied across the whole department.


Whitely Bay have put together 10 recommendations for schools who want to try out the shared planning approach:

  1. Set time aside for understanding the process and principles. 
  1. Divide the work in such a way as to exploit teachers’ specialisms. 
  1. Agree from the outset on the fundamentals, whilst remaining flexible to individual predispositions. 
  1. Encourage continuity and progression in the students’ experiences. 
  1. Be prepared to make significant investment of time in the early stages. 
  1. Build on the existing team spirit within departments. 
  1. Make sure that everyone is on board and understands the aims.  
  1. Utilise training and educational research to impact on planning
  1. Ensure that the ICT infrastructure can support the demands that will be made of it. 
  1. Make provision for staff in one-person departments to plan with colleagues elsewhere. 

Whitley Bay have felt real benefits in the reduction of workload and pressure due to collaborative planning. The subsequent planning time that has been saved is invested in building on and tweaking the previous year’s planning.

[1] Greer and Daly. 2020. Professionally acceptable workload: Learning to act differently towards effective change

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Whitley Bay School in North East England recognised that lesson planning significantly contributes to excessive teacher workload, they adopted a shared approach to planning. This case study examines how this approach has been effective at reducing workload, as well as improving the quality of teaching: boosting staff development and morale.

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