As more staff leave the profession and fewer join, what will differentiate those schools and colleges who attract and retain the best staff?
Is it geography, affordability of housing, results, reputation or a combination of these (and more)?
Or will it be those schools and colleges that shine like beacons of hope as happy staff flock to them, cocooned from the pressures of too-high workload and a lack of appreciation?
OK, that’s too utopian a view, however, there are some simple steps schools and colleges can take - and I’m sure many do already - to improve the situation for staff. And there are good reasons why you should.
Before considering wellbeing in schools and colleges, here’s one of the UK’s best known and most successful business leader's take on looking after staff.
Multi-billionaire Richard Branson talks about the three key groups of people in his business: employees, customers, and shareholders.
His formula is simple: “If you can put employees first, your customers second and shareholders third, effectively, in the end, the shareholders do well, the customers do better, and your staff are happy. That is the philosophy that we are teaching.”
Translate this to schools and colleges: staff, students (‘customers’), and parents, school governing bodies, government, and school inspectors (‘shareholders’).
It is right there is a strong focus on students, and there is obviously concern at meeting the needs of the ‘shareholders’. Yet, while there are moves towards better supporting of staff, in too many cases their needs come third.
Assessing the evidence
There is strong evidence to show that improving staff wellbeing improves results.
A major study, Staff Wellbeing is Key to School Success*, carried out by Birkbeck College, University of London in 2007, involved 24,100 staff in 246 primary schools and 182 secondary schools. Findings demonstrated that improving wellbeing led to a statistically significant increase in SATs results in primary schools, and an increase in the percentage of students achieving 5+ GCSEs in secondary schools. In both environments, it also increased value added progress.
Despite more schools and colleges beginning to tackle this area, many don’t have a clear plan of how best to go about it, often dealing with the symptoms rather than the causes (or prevention).
Whilst organising staff events, being part of a staff assistance scheme, or giving resilience or mindfulness training are good ideas, these actions won’t deliver value if they aren’t part of a coherent plan.
The foundations for staff wellbeing cover just two key areas:
The behaviour of leaders and, as a result, how well staff feel they are treated.
The systems that support them.
Ensuring all leaders in your school or college know the competencies that alleviate stress in staff and improve wellbeing is a great place to start. Challenge them to self-assess against them and take action to improve their performance (these competencies were established through research at Goldsmiths, University of London and are different to those included in national qualifications).
Improving wellbeing and performance is clearly not a quick fix and is about embedding behaviours, systems and practice. As a result, it becomes part of the culture.
Measuring current performance with the right tools, adding the right actions to your organisation's development plan, and developing your leaders to meet the coming challenges will all help your school or college reap the benefits of attracting … and keeping staff.
Mark Solomons has founded or co-founded 4 different enterprises that have supported over 230,000 students and thousands of leaders, teachers and support staff to raise their performance, confidence and wellbeing. He is also co-author of Building Resilience: The 7 Steps to Successful Lives and 5 Steps to Building a School Wide Coaching Culture.
Mark will be running the ASCL Professional Development event Leading for Outstanding Staff Wellbeing in London on 5 February 2019.
*Staff Wellbeing is Key to School Success. A research study into the links between staff wellbeing and school performance (Professor Rob Briner and Dr Chris Dewberry, Department of Organisational Psychology, Birkbeck College in partnership with Worklife Support, 2007)