Tag Archives: Wellbeing

Teacher recruitment and retention matters

On 8th June 2019 I attended #BrewEdEssex This event was organised by Vic Goddard, Jean Louis Dutaut, Dean Boddington and John Bryant. The theme as teacher recruitment and retention. I’m very grateful to the organisers for letting me speak at this event and talk about the role governors can play in this. My slides from my session are below. I’m also adding a few lines of explanation so the slides make sense to those who weren’t there in person.

Slide 2:

Before we go on to discuss the role governors can play in recruitment and retention, a bit of back ground about who we are and what we do. Exact data isn’t available but there are around 250,000 of us. As we are legally not allowed to be paid, this makes us one of the largest volunteer forces in England.

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We have three core functions.

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One of our core roles is ensuring there is clarity of vision and ethos in our school/academy/MAT. This is really important as ethos and culture of our schools will impact on retention. Governors play an important part in defining the vision and ethos and then we make sure that all our practices and policies reflect this. We need to ensure that the ethos in the schools we govern is one of mutual respect, of professional respect, of collaboration and support. If we can build up such a culture we will go a long way in ensuring that firstly teachers want to come at work in our schools and secondly, the teachers that do work in our schools stay in teaching. I’ve deliberately said stay in teaching and not stay in our schools because what we want is a school where we grow and develop our teachers so that they are ready to take the next step in their career and that may involve moving schools. This is the most positive thing we can do. In many cases we are the employer so it’s important that we recognise the role we play and the duty we have as employers.

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One way in which a school or trust can start to address the recruitment and retention problem is by showing itself to be an employer of choice. For this to happen we need commitment from governors to treat this as a priority and to aspire to be an employer of choice. So, what does this mean in practical terms? I’ll talk about retention first as I think if you can retain your teachers then the recruitment problem becomes less of an issue.

Slide 6:

So, why it is important to retain teachers? David Weston has blogged about this where he’s looked at research which showed that teachers get better over time, initially more quickly and then, typically, a little more slowly from around three to five years, More experienced teachers improve academic outcomes and non-academic outcomes, very experienced teacher is particularly effective at reducing absence of the most vulnerable pupils and experienced teachers make their colleagues more effective. So retaining experienced teachers is of huge importance.

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The first step to becoming an employer of choice is for governors to judge ourselves using staff satisfaction as one of the criteria of how successfully we are as leaders. How do we do that?

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Firstly, we must make sure staffing is discussed at every board meeting. We need to ask heads to report on staffing issues at every meeting. This will go a long way in making the head and SLT and staff realise that staff are important to us.

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We should also be surveying staff, at least annually. These surveys should give us an insight to how staff are feeling, what issues are causing a concern

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Obviously, positive feedback is good to have. Who doesn’t like to hear good things?

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But perhaps more important is to be open to hear negative feedback and to act on it. If governors become defensive or don’t encourage heads and SLT to be open to hearing different views then it’s very difficult to bring about change. Staff should be made to feel valued and one way to do that is to seek their views and change things which are negatively impacting on them.

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And one of the most important issues we may get feedback on is workload issues. Though the day to day running of the school is something we should not get involved in but as governors we do need to understand workload issues. Ask questions relating to workload. We must ask our heads how are they ensuring teachers are not getting crushed under workload. Anytime a new policy or new initiative is brought to us we need to ask about workload implications of that initiative. If staff are being asked to do something new, we need to ask what are they not required to do. Again, culture and ethos has a part to play here. Do we know and do we facilitate collaboration so teachers have supportive networks and are not constantly re-inventing the wheel. We must also look hard at ourselves. Are we adding to workload by demanding data? Is all the data that we ask for actually useful? Are we putting pressure on our heads who then may be passing it down to teachers? How are we supporting our heads? Have we ensured that they have a team around them who they can rely on for finance, HR etc and leave them free to concentrate on teaching and learning?

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Workload issues bring me to another thing; flexible working. Are we as governors aware of what our staff needs are as far as flexible working is concerned?

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This again is something where the culture and ethos we are responsible for plays a part. Are we fostering a culture where staff feel able to talk to senior management and working together come up with a solution which means they can work reduced hours. This applies to heads too. As governors are we ready to have a conversation with our head when they indicate they would like a job share?

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Another way we can make staff feel valued so that they stay in the profession is by committing to their development. When the budget comes to us for approval do we look at the CPD budget? Do we ensure that the money being spent is being spent wisely? Do we put measures into place which allow our staff to develop and flourish? Are we making it easier of for staff to get further qualifications? When we appoint new heads, especially if it’s their first headship, do we offer them a mentoring scheme? Some people may be a bit wary of developing staff in case they left to go elsewhere. I think, firstly, we owe it to them. Secondly, prospective new staff will see that you’ve nurtured and developed staff and they can expect the same so they will be keener to join and this helps in making you an employer of choice.

Slide 16:

Flexible working, manageable workload and development opportunities all contribute to teacher well-being. There are other things we can do too. Governors should make sure behaviour policies are working and are being implemented consistently. When we go into schools we can see if behaviour is like we would want it to be. If teachers don’t have to fight at this front they can get on with doing their job which is teaching. We can have other initiatives as well such as each teacher is allowed to take off for family events like watching their own child in a play. Like I said this is all to do with the culture. As culture, good or bad, will trickle down from the top as governors we need to be aware that the culture is one where teachers are valued and know they are valued.

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As governors we need to ensure we have a good whistleblowing policy in place and that people have confidence that if they raise concerns through this they will be listened to, the issue will be thoroughly investigated and they won’t suffer any consequences. We should be looking at staff absence data and asking questions around that so we can pick up any problems that may be leading to a high absence rate. We must also ask how staff returning to work will be supported. If staff do leave, for whatever reason, we should be offering exit interviews. Again, the culture in the school should be one where people won’t mind speaking their minds at these interviews.

Slide 18:

A quick word about headteachers now. Headship is a lonely place. Once we have appointed a good head we need to make sure we support and nurture the head too. The GB/head relationship, especially the chair and head relationship is of crucial importance. Yes, we must challenge them but we must be ready to provide support too. Heads are juggling a lot of balls a lot of the time and it’s up to us to support them and let them know that you’re there for them. A good head is more likely to stay on if they have a good GB and chair than if they don’t.

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Slide 20:

Governors are directly involved in appointing heads and members of the SLT team. For headteacher appointments in MATs they may have the CEO or regional director etc as part of the panel. Some panels will also have advice from an independent person. Governors will be looking for a person who shares their ethos and will be able to deliver the vision they have of the school moving forward. There are a lot of myths around like governors only appoint someone in their image etc. The vast, vast majority of governors just want the best candidate for their school. It’s my view and one shared by the NGA that The other appointments for classroom teachers, HoD, support staff etc should be left to the head to manage but there are things we should be monitoring.

Slide 21:

So, what do governors need to consider when they are looking at how recruitment works in their school? All the things I’ve just talked about are things which will attract people to apply but only if you tell them you have all this in place. This is where marketing comes into play. We need to make sure people who are thinking of applying now what great stuff is going on in our schools. We need to ensure that we communicate our vision clearly. We want to appoint someone who has the same vision as us. This becomes especially important when appointing head and SLT as they are then ones who will be delivering the vision so they need to be in tune with the governing body. Does our ad make it clear we are an equal opportunity employer? It’s not simply the matter of adding alone at the bottom of the ad saying that you are. Does the ad reflect this? Have we looked at out short listing process? Have we considered blind short listing?  Are we sure our interview brings out the best in the candidates? Do we give feedback after interviews? Good feedback to unsuccessful candidates is important for their development.

Slide 22:

This tweet caught my eye the other day. I have Dean’s permission to share this today. Apart from the fact that in my opinion governors should not be involved in interviewing for positions other than SLT and head, I see no value in asking these questions of an NQT. Just think back to when you were an NQT and were asked this.

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So, in summary,

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Now you must be thinking that this was all about what governors could do and should do so why is Naureen telling us all this? Three reasons really:

  • You work in schools which are governed by trustees or governors should you should know what they should be doing as retention and recruitment for that matter affects you all
  • Some of you may be governors yourself and therefore you can go back and see how are things being done in your governing body
  • Lastly, if you are not a governor then I would urge you to think of becoming one. Think of joining a governing body of another school. For you that will be great CPD and for that governing body they’ll have someone who understands education and the pressures that go with the job.

Reducing teacher workload matters: Department for Education Guidance for trustees and boards by

Department for Education has today published materials to help boards and trustees help support workload reduction in their school(s) and for themselves. The links to various materials are as below.

Support for governing boards and trustees: workshop

Handout: Summary sheet to accompany workshop

Workshop discussion template

Practical tools: Ongar Primary School Governing Board reflections on reducing workload across a school

Staff wellbeing surveys matter: Guest Post

Bruce Greig is an entrepreneur and school governor. He served as Chair of Governors through two Ofsted inspections and worked with four headteachers. He set up School Staff Surveys after discovering how enlightening an anonymous staff survey can be and decided to make it easy for every school to run them. Below is a guest post written by Bruce on the topic of staff surveys.

I’ve been a school governor since 2011. A long while ago we asked our headteacher to run a staff wellbeing survey. We had heard mutterings of discontent from some staff, but others seemed very happy. Sometimes governors’ work is like the blind men appraising an elephant: you only see little glimpses of what’s really going on.

That survey we ran turned out to be transformational. It started a gradual, but dramatic, improvement in our the school staff culture.

Culture is very hard for governors to assess. Staff are often on their “best behaviour” during a learning walk or other governor visit. You don’t necessarily get a sense of how staff interact, and how they feel, when governors are not around.

We now do the same survey every year, and I think that every school should do this. In fact, I became so taken with the idea I set up a little side business just doing staff wellbeing surveys for schools: School Staff Surveys.

Here are some of my favourite questions (there are 69 questions in all, adapted from the world-renowed UK Civil Service People Survey).

Simple questions, but telling. And you can’t really ask a staff member this face-to-face (or, if you did, you can’t be sure of getting an honest answer). Of course, this survey question won’t tell you for sure whether or not your head is doing a good job, but it will help inform you. Staff might answer “Agree” because they just love the fact that the head lets them hide away in their classroom untroubled by observation or feedback. Or they might “Disagree” because they dislike a head who is actually doing a great job.

So the survey digs a little deeper into this, with questions like:

You can see that these more probing questions would help governors understand in more detail how the school is being led and managed.

Developing staff

As governors, we are well aware that recruiting staff is difficult: distracting, time-consuming and hard work. So it is much better if schools can do everything they can to develop and grow their existing staff. How’s that going? This question gives you an steer:

Staff might agree to this because they think to themselves “yes, I could go on those courses if I got round to asking”. Does your school actually have the processes in place to ensure that that development actually happens, and is it worthwhile? This more specific question gets to the crux of that:

And if you are able to develop and grow your staff, you should then get a resounding Strongly Agree to this question:

Feedback and appraisal

Since the introduction of performance related pay for teachers in 2014, it has been absolutely crucial that schools get their appraisal process right. Back in 2013, the last TALIS survey showed that around half of all teachers in England felt that feedback and appraisal was just a box-ticking exercise. If that shows up in the next TALIS survey, a lot of schools will be sitting on a tinderbox of potential grievances.

You are unlikely to hear from a teacher face-to-face that they think their appraisal is a waste of time. But if they do quietly think that, you could have a big problem on your hands – if their pay has been determined each year by a process they think is inadequate.

A regular wellbeing survey can look at this issue with questions like:

It isn’t just about how teachers view their own appraisal. It is just as important that staff feel others are managed well too, especially if they think other staff are not doing a good job. A question like this addresses that:

Teamwork

There are few things more toxic for a school staff culture than a staff member who doesn’t muck in. Won’t share resources, makes no effort to help out colleagues. I have heard of a school where a teacher appeared super professional and dedicated in her interactions with governors, but completely wrecked the school’s team culture in her interactions with staff. Literally leaving other teachers in tears. Had it not been for other staff speaking up, governors would have had no idea of the effect this teacher was having on the rest of the small team.

Being fair and respectful

Now we are getting into more sensitive territory. You’d hope that, if staff were not being treated fairly, or were suffering harassment, they would speak up. But I’ve learned that teachers are very reluctant to speak out about anything which might rock the boat (compared to my experience of other modern workplaces). If they keep their heads down, they have a very secure job. If they rock the boat, they fear that they might attract the dreaded career-ending “capability procedure”.

Your survey should include a couple of basic questions on this, like:

But also explicitly ask about discrimination:

And harassment:

Now then if you get a “yes” to either of these questions, the school can’t necessarily take any action. The survey is anonymous. The respondent might wish to remain anonymous. But your head, or CoG, could at least say to staff that the survey has shown that someone feels they have not been treated right and make sure everyone knows how to address their grievance safely if they want to.

There are another 40 questions in the survey that I run. There are plenty of ways that schools can run a survey like this. The UK Civil Service People Survey questions are in the public domain – you can put them into a Google Form or into Survey Monkey for free. One step up from that is a simple paid-for version like mine (School Staff Surveys), which takes the time and effort out of doing it all yourself. Or there are other providers like the Education Support Partnership who will administer a survey for you and follow it up with consulting and advice to help you address the issues it raises.

 

The Governor’s Role from a non-governor perspective; Guest Post by Dr Christine Challen

Dr Christine Challen is a Lecturer who describes herself as being passionate about supporting students & preparing them for HE. She believes that continual reflection in practice is key to successful teaching. She is a new blogger who has found her writing muse. Below are her reflections on the role of a governor from the perspective of someone who is not a governor herself.

I thought it would be a great way to start the New Year, with a different spin on Governance. Having never been a governor myself what do I perceive to be the role of a governor within a governing body? More importantly how does and should this impact on the school or college both for staff and pupils/students and ultimately the vision and/or future of the institution?

Before we begin let’s explore what the role of the governor within a governing body is:

“The role of the governing body is to provide strategic management, and to act as a “critical friend”, supporting the work of the headteacher and other staff. …Governors must appoint the headteacher, and may be involved in the appointment of other staff.”

I have specifically chosen this definition as I like the term “critical friend,” However, while it is easy to be taken in by the word friend, for some this will conjure up an element of pleasing and not wanting to “stir the broth.” This is well balanced by the word critical in front because for me that is exactly what a governor should do.

Now I do not for one minute want you all to think that this means it is all about finding fault and being negative but it is key to be questioning, and within this sometimes thinking outside the box for a positive impact not only on staff and students but the future vision of the school.

The term “strategic management.” is an unfortunate description as it implies “continuous planning, monitoring, analysis and assessment” which by default suggests accountability.

In my Bera Blog (2017) I  have described how the presence of business and accountability in education is damaging not only for staff and student wellbeing but also what the real and true meaning of education is about.

The press, media and twitter are full to bursting with real genuine concerns and views from senior experienced educators about high numbers of staff and students with mental health issues as well as challenging behaviour and how we tackle this and provide a truly inclusive education for all to contribute positively and successfully to society and employers. Additionally, there is now an even greater need to embrace the view that we need enriching curriculums that will provide much more individualised approaches to education rather than the constant assessment and exam culture.

The big question is how do I see the role of a governor from an inexperienced eye?

My pet hate is folks that treat this role as a great addition to a CV, instead of a commitment to institution, pupils and staff and a serious role paid or not.

Governors need to fully embrace the attribute of “critical friend” even if it means challenging questions and asking for changes that may not necessarily tick boxes but have lasting changes both personally and academically for schools, pupils and staff alike.

Although Governors need to work with leadership teams, they also need to stand firm in their views even if they are counter to the popular opinion within school boards if we are truly to change education.

Wellbeing, inclusion and individualised education need to be a top priority if we are to ensure that all are able to contribute positively and effectively to a better academic and pastoral environment for all.

They may well be reminded that “rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men” and this for me sums up how governors can affect change.

As we pack away our decorations for another year  here is my message to all governors out there – remember your role is pivotal to making changes. Be creative, be questioning, think outside the box, challenge the school and heads and keep at the forefront of your mind the pupils and staff both new and experienced.

Your voice is important and can make changes for the better.

So, as we all ring in the New Year all governors alike let the bells ring even louder for the changes you can make in our schools and education to ensure we do our future generation proud. Look after our teachers not just professionally but their wellbeing as well.

Finally, and aptly as governors remember the words of Nelson Mandela

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” as governors use your voice to enable this for a better future and social justice in society.

 

Staff wellbeing matters. Part 2

In my previous blog I reproduced a post by Kevin McLaughlin who wrote very movingly about his experience. The issue of staff wellbeing is one that we, as governors, should keep very high on our agendas. After reading Kevin’s post I started to think of some questions we should be asking ourselves/our heads. The questions which I came up with are as below. In this post when I refer to staff I mean anyone who is working in schools, be they teaching or non-teaching staff members.

Culture

  1. Does your board foster a culture where everyone feels they can seek support without feeling that their position may be threatened?
  2. What would you say if I asked you about the culture of mutual trust, respect, transparency, and recognition in your school? This all feeds into wellbeing.
  3. Have you thought about doing anonymous staff surveys with questions on wellbeing, work/life balance and workload with results reported to the board?
  4. Do you question if you notice a high staff turnover?
  5. Do you do exit interviews? These may give you valuable information about the culture in the school and how staff are feeling.
  6. Do you get data about staff sickness and days off? Can you identify any trends?
  7. Do you know what support is put into place once staff return to work after illness?
  8. Do you have a wellbeing policy/governor? Do they report back to the board? How are their reports used to change/modify your practice?
  9. Are you aware of your duty of care as employers?
  10. Do you regularly review what you are doing to look after the head’s wellbeing? This is important for two reasons. Firstly because as governors we would want to ensure that we are looking after and supporting our heads. Secondly, a stressed head may result in rest of the staff becoming stressed too.
  11. Are staff are happy to talk to you and do they believe you have their interests at heart?
  12. Are you sure that the initiatives you/the school have introduced to address wellbeing are more than just a gesture/tick in the box?
  13. How do you prioritise raising awareness of Mental Health issues?

Workload

  1. Have you thought about adding something in your SDP about teacher workload?
  2. Do you ask about the effect on teacher workload when new initiatives/policy amendments are brought to the board?
  3. Do you ask school leaders to justify new initiatives they bring to you for approval?
  4. Do you ask what is being dropped to accommodate new initiatives?
  5. Are members of SLT/teachers with additional responsibilities given sufficient non-contact time/working at home days to facilitate their leadership & management responsibilities?
  6. Do you make sure you ask for information well in advance of when it’s needed? It can help to draft agendas for the whole year, in consultation with the head, so that the head and school know in advance what information is required at what time of the year. This will help with managing staff workload.
  7. Is there a communication policy? This should deal with communication between staff, between governors and staff and between parents and staff.
  8. Do you set an example yourself as a governor by ensuring that everyone, including your clerk, knows that you may be emailing at a time when it’s convenient to you but you do not expect an immediate reply?
  9. Do you think about the reports/data you are asking the school to provide? Are they necessary? Are you duplicating? Can you get the same information but with less data/ fewer reports?
  10. What would your clerk say if I asked them how your practice affected their workload? Do you, for example, send out the papers you need to on time? Do you respond to the clerk’s requests on time?

Work/life balance

  1. What would your head/SLT say if you asked them if they can tell you how many extra hours are teachers putting in and why?
  2. Are your meetings held at mutually convenient times for governors and staff (including the caretakers who will be locking up the school if meetings are held in the evenings) who attend?
  3. Do your meetings run to time?
  4. Do you place items for which the responsible/presenting member of staff who doesn’t need to stay for the whole meeting, at the top of the agenda?
  5. How do you/your school leaders deal with requests to go part time?

Are there any other questions we should be asking or issues we should be thinking of? Please add these in the comments and I will incorporate them.

Further reading:

1. Workload and wellbeing by David Jones.

2. Leading on staff mental health by Patrick Ottley-O’Connor

3. The self-evident truths of staff wellbeing by Robin Macpherson

Staff wellbeing matters. Part 1. With thanks to @kvnmcl

Today I read a blog by Kevin McLaughlin titled The depressed teacher. This blog is about a topic I think governors need to think about. With Kevin’s kind permission I’ve copied the blog below in order to raise awareness of this issue amongst governors. I will follow this blog with another one where I will pose some questions we should be asking ourselves about staff wellbeing.

For many years I have been recognised, in the main, as an ‘outstanding teacher’ by my peers, the LA and Ofsted. I learned from my errors, I listened to advice from those more experienced and I strove to improve my pedagogy through CPD and reading literature. In September 2012 I was recognised as an ‘outstanding’ teacher, one of only two in the school, by Ofsted yet only one month later I was deemed ‘requires improvement’ by the newly appointed headteacher. Why? What happened to my teaching? Where did I go wrong? How could I have let this happen? I questioned it yet found the reply insane- I didn’t meet the new observation checklist. A descent into ill health and depression followed with two emergency visits to A&E with suspected heart attacks.

It’s been a long time coming but I feel ready to tell this side of my teaching career so that others may recognise the signs and do something about it. My first visit to A&E happened during 2014. The atmosphere at school had taken a nose dive and staff, including myself, were teaching in fear; fear that we were not teaching well, fear that we wouldn’t meet our PM targets, fear that we had missed out the non-negotiables, fear that our displays wouldn’t meet the new standards. The warning signs were there. I woke up one night with what felt like a huge weight on my chest. I slid off the bed and crawled out to the bathroom but ended up sliding down the stairs calling for help. My partner rang the emergency services as I lay there on the stairs worrying about everyone I loved. Thankfully, after the various tests it was found I hadn’t had a heart attack and it was more than likely my condition was brought about by acute stress. I returned to work a few days later and everyone said I had to take it easy. That was it. Nothing else. No gradual easing back into teaching, not much support from management. The warning signs were there. I never read them. One term later I had another observation (part of my performance management) which resulted in requires improvement. I contested the outcome and got it changed to good. I knew I had to leave so started looking for a new job.

Job hunting was proving fruitless as nothing interested me. Another warning sign, I should have left no matter what but financial security tied me to this unhealthy post. The year ahead was spent meeting targets, doing what management expected to see rather than what I knew my class required. I was told to ‘keep my head down and just play the game’. But I couldn’t. I would not accept this. I should have read the signs. It was 2015 when I had another suspected heart attack, this time at school. I experienced the same symptoms again, a very heavy chest, pains in my side, rapid breathing. The office rang the ambulance and I was taken to hospital from school. A multitude of tests later and I was given the all clear. The relief brought me and my partner to tears. She demanded I leave the school. Once again it was stress related. I never sought my doctor’s advice, I never signed off sick, I never took time off. I felt ‘obliged’ to my job. Management expressed their feelings yet a couple of weeks later it was as if nothing had happened to me. I had gotten over it. I was back at work. I was expected to be outstanding all the time, nothing less.

I resigned from the school in 2016.

My health has improved considerably since then. Apart from a blip during my disastrous venture into Deputy Headship where I was shouted at by the headteacher (another story) I have been on the road to complete recovery and mental stability.

Now I point the finger of blame at myself. I should have recognised the warning signs. I should have acted sooner and shouted more loudly. I didn’t. The education system in England has become poisoned with data, ill conceived marking policies, fixations on passing tests at the expense of a wider and richer curriculum. Thankfully Ofsted have recognised this and have published their myth busting documents, changes to school inspections and recent speeches. But more needs to be done as the message is not sinking in. Too many schools are ignoring the advice and are continuing with a rule of fear. Too many schools are putting too much pressure on their staff. Too many schools are ignoring common sense.

Recognise the signs and act upon them. Your good health is more important than turning up for work as a quivering wreck. Your school needs to understand this. If your school doesn’t, resign. No school is worth ill health.