Here is my 5-point plan for improving teacher wellbeing across England.
“No business organisation with a 40% attrition rate would last long in any sector.”
Staff wellbeing is not a peripheral issue. ‘Indeed, it should be a moral imperative for all senior leadership teams and their governing bodies.’
In June 2014, I visited Education Guardian to attend a round-table discussion. The topic in which I wrote a preamble is here: “Promoting wellbeing: How can we support teachers in the face of growing professional challenges?”. On Tuesday 1st , the following article: Teachers’ wellbeing: under scrutiny and under-appreciated was written by journalist, Victoria Neumark and published in The Guardian. This meeting highlighted the following:
The 40% attrition rate is a damming headline. Those involved with education in England, will be all-too familiar with this statistic. This figure is drummed across the media and will be on the lips of every union leader across England in our drive to reduce working conditions placed upon teachers and to attract the brightest graduates. However, every statistic must be treated with caution and put into context. “If we want to maintain our status and stay respected as a profession, we’ve got to be prepared to be accountable, as others are.” said Graham Lacey, executive principal of Southbank International school,
Of course, accountability comes hand-in-hand with staff wellbeing in schools and is another debate not discussed here. Attrition rates will vary from school to school and region across England’s green and pleasant land; yet we need to seriously make a start, to accept that these startling figures of attrition is indicative of the pressures placed upon schools and those who work in them. In many ways, the increased accountability is sapping away at the profession; but, is accountability at the expense of less time and money to be able to do the same job?
Here are some eye-watering statistics:
- over half of teachers (52%) say that they have seriously considered leaving their current job in the last 12 months and nearly half (47%) have seriously considered leaving the profession;
- two fifths of teachers (41%) say their job satisfaction has decreased in the last 12 months;
- teachers’ biggest concern regarding their job is workload (79%), followed by pay and pensions (66%), changes or reforms in the curriculum (59%) and school inspections (51%). The vast majority of teachers (86%) say that their workload has increased in the last 12 months;
- the majority of teachers disagree that teaching is competitive with other occupations in terms of either the financial rewards on offer (80%) or salaries (67%) and only 21% of teachers feel optimistic about their career opportunities;
- the top three things teachers love most about their jobs are seeing children learn and progress (91%), interacting with pupils (90%) and making a positive difference (83%). (Source)
- research by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) found that 55% of teachers said work pressure is having a detrimental effect on their mental wellbeing. Note, the research was conducted in April 2014 by polling agency ComRes, surveying 2002 adults, of whom 1548 are parents and 933 have children under 25.
The published article stems from the following questions:
- Accountability: to whom are teachers accountable? Children, parents, school management, Ofsted, the secretary of state, the public, the media? Or are their own consciences the hardest taskmasters of all?
- Are the biggest pressures internal or external? What can management do to alleviate those pressures and help teachers cope with the workload?
- Professional development: should schools spend on this as an investment in people, rather than take a negative view and see it as a cost?
- How has the decline in status affected teachers? Do they feel the need to justify their working patterns?
- What does support look like? Preventative measures.
With the above in mind, I have written my 5-point wellbeing plan in-line with these questions.
The 5-point plan:
And I am not putting my union hat on here. I am genuinely suggesting what we need to do to raise morale and invest in every teacher in every school.
- Hold all staff to account, but retain support with constructive feedback and most of all, flexibility.
- Reduce unneccessary workload on staff. Endless meetings; tick-box proformas and the famous paraphrase: ‘Ofsted will be coming this year’.
- Invest more than £500 per member of staff per year for professional development. In fact, treble this to ensure there is scope for internal and external development, and keep some cash spare for personal and professional classroom development; set by the teacher, not the appraiser.
- That teachers, bloggers and school leaders share more and more good news stories within the profession; to challenge the preconceptions cast by the media.
- Praise and recognise every member of staff in the school. Promote staff wellbeing as a school priority and not a wooly add-on! See academic research from Briner and Dewberry (Birbeck University 2007) Staff well-being is key to school success. A key finding is this:
“there is a significant and positive association between the wellbeing variables and the following measures of school performance.”
Extended information based on the short statements I have made above.
- Accountability: Keep expectations high, but remain flexible by removing unnecessary checklists by allowing teachers to teach in a style that suits the students in their classroom. For example: remove the burden of lesson planning and marking, by banishing lesson proformas from appraisal observations and day-to-day teaching and learning. Ensure all staff are clear about the expectations of marking. That every page in a student’s book does not have to be marked. Streamline reporting; assessment; flexible timetable and working arrangements etc.
- Workload: Reduce the need for meetings for meeting sake. Publish agendas and handouts in advance. Bring staff together for clarification; Q&A and/or decisions with staff (concerned) present – 30 mins. Or more specifically, banish Mocksteds! Trust staff to do the job and if they can’t meet expectations, adapt and refine what is expected and have ‘that conversation’, but be flexible.
- Professional development: The school CPD budget should be huge! At least 1-2% of the overall school budget! Invest in your staff, by providing tailored, differentiated in-house CPD for every adult within the school. Research by The Teacher Development Trust show that schools spend £12,000 on teachers in their first year of practice, compared to a miserly £400 p.a. thereafter. Ensure CPD is genuinely followed up and that staff are given the time to demonstrate its impact.
- Attrition: Eradicate bullies; task-masters; and leaders who berate adults within the school with remedial tasks and heavy-handed, ill-thought out workload. Insist that the government, unions and policy-makers reduce the need for rapid-change and start to consolidate on the changes that have been made from 2010. What works best, is good teaching and learning in the classroom. Everything else is just peripheral.
A broken vision is evident in the staff who do not believe leaders are genuinely committed to making sure everyone is appropriately supported; fairly and transparently. Investment in all staff would ensure equality is paramount for developing all members of staff in their performance / wellbeing. Teaching will always be a noble profession, but certainly not one that has credibility if we do not retain and invest in the staff we already have.
- Genuine support: A meaningful and realistic vision for staff wellbeing is needed for every school. Happy schools have happy teachers and happy and healthy teachers make happy schools. But in order to achieve this, every staff, no matter how jaded, needs support and guidance. Staff need to be listened to carefully. In everyone, there is a real potential. As school leaders, managers or appraisers, we need to find this potential and unlock it. Give every member of all staff a linked coach/mentor as well as an appraiser. The coach/mentor can genuinely meet to support staff wellbeing and personal and professional CPD needs in a structured/calendared way.
In The Guardian article, I am quoted as saying the following key messages.
p style=”padding-left:30px;”>“… even if managers do shield staff from external pressures, they are vulnerable to their own conscientiousness …” and
“Good leaders help staff balance work and life. We encourage staff to go home at the end of the day. We provide breakfast at the 7am (error, it’s 8am) staff briefing. Gestures such as running wellbeing weeks, and even organising staff’s dry-cleaning, a cycle to work scheme, flu-vaccinations …” and
“We need to slow down and reflect on what we are doing. We build it into daily sessions with our kids, but not with our staff.” and
“Good teachers are happy, but if they don’t have a chance to breathe, they can’t be happy.”
There is a fabulous comment left by DissentingVoice in the Guardian column:
“Whilst a headteacher I always kept in my diary a quote from Brighouse and Woods. It reminded me that whilst I might be feeling burnt out so would my classroom based colleagues who did not have the bolt hole of an office nor the luxury to shut the office door for a few minutes to think things through. The quote was:
“..Teachers know that the inflection of their voice, the movement of an eyebrow and their attitude every minute of the day when they are with children, effect those children’s ability to learn. And they are with children a lot. So teachers get exhausted when the rest of us simply tire.”
I tried not to forget just how tiring and draining a full days teaching could be. Now looking from the outside in I would urge senior leaders to be wary of any future policy directives that seek to “divide and rule” senior leaders from their classroom colleagues. “United we stand, divided we fall.” I particularly fear the new performance management proposals will not be accompanied by a sufficient level of funding to reward all our colleagues who warrant such an award and will also diminish the willingness of teachers to share good practice. This scenario will further damage staff well-being.
Senior leadership teams need to recognise that supporting staff well-being is essential. We can not sustain pupils being taught by the fraught; experienced colleagues “jumping ship” earlier than they originally planned; and two in every five new teachers leaving within five years of taking up post. We need particularly to resist the “control freakery” that can lead to senior leaders demanding our colleagues spend 60 to 70 percent of their time on administration and bureaucracy. The world will not come to an end, for example, if Geography’s scheme of work is presented in a different style to English.
There are organisations out there that will support schools in the management of well-being. They will also undertake online anonymous audits on staff well-being. The audit results can be uncomfortable for senior leaders. However, better to know how people really feel and address what you can. Schools can also do basic things like set up staff well-being groups. Unions also have a role to play and leadership teams should reflect upon feedback from school representatives. My experience is that the unions are not “the enemy within” and can play a constructive role in improving staff well being.
Staff well-being matters. It is not a peripheral issue – indeed, it should be a moral imperative for all senior leadership teams and their governing bodies.”