February 2022 edition: Priorities for your Trust People Strategy in these Challenging Times

Priorities for your Trust People Strategy in these Challenging Times

Recently a Headteacher told me that many of her staff are now on their second, and in some cases even third, Covid-19 infection and absence is a critical issue this term. I know that school and Trust leaders have been grappling with this at a time when many staff are exhausted as we reach the two-year anniversary of the pandemic. Trusts and schools are being incredibly creative in how they manage staffing gaps with support staff cover, part time staff working extra hours and remote learning all playing a part.

In 2021, CST published the Bridge to the Future paper – the role of Trusts as Talent Architects; creating schools as great places to work. This paper argued for Trusts to develop long-term people strategies and to ensure they had fit for purpose HR functions contributing to this.

Right now, this may seem challenging to many trying to cope with the day-to-day capacity issues of staff absences and significant well-being concerns for leaders and front-line staff.

However, this is where Trusts make a real difference to their schools. As CST has argued to policy makers, we need to look to the medium term – it is too early to get back to business as usual, at the same time we need to look beyond each crisis toward a plan for the medium-term. The support of a Trust to do this is invaluable to schools trying to manage the day-to-day operational challenges.

For our people strategies, there are some key issues that must be our focus medium-term to ensure our workforce across schools emerges from the pandemic resilient and stable.

A focus on employee well- being and mental health is a top priority. There has been little to no respite for our staff and leaders during the pandemic. We need to build strategies in our Trusts, that at the heart of them involve developing the skill of every leader to spot signs of stress and proactively manage their teams’ well-being. It is a worry that the Teacher Well-being index highlights that staff rarely talk to their manager about their well-being concerns and yet those that do, find this really makes a difference. Trusts are also well placed to support schools to tackle areas such as marking, data and administration expectations that would benefit staff having to cope with the additional workload challenges created by the pandemic. Access to counselling via an employee assistance programme is a must – Trusts have seen an increase in use during the pandemic and staff say they are really valued.

Looking after the well-being of school leaders is also vital, and Trusts need to continue to wrap care around their leaders, as I know so many have done through this difficult time. Access to coaching/mentoring, counselling and flexible working are all important. Trust leaders can have proactive conversations with Headteachers – a sabbatical, some homeworking, part-time working, or job share may help retain an experienced Headteacher who just needs some respite.

Flexible working for all employees matters. It promotes work-life balance, retains key staff, and creates pathways for diverse leaders. It helps us to develop a more agile workforce. Helping schools to become more flexible could have a significant impact on staff well-being and retention at a time when this is much needed. Traditionally in our sector, flexible working has been dominated by part-time working for caring responsibilities. The world has moved on and flexibility is becoming the norm with many full-timers wanting some flex and graduates consistently citing it as a key benefit. Schools have tried many different flex options due to the necessity of the pandemic and maintaining those that work, will now be important. Building a flex conversation into appraisals, looking at whole school practices such as chunking PPA for work at home time and providing staff with late starts/early finishes when needed are just some of the actions we are seeing.

For our people strategies, there are some key issues that must be our focus medium-term to ensure our workforce across schools emerges from the pandemic resilient and stable.

Mandy Coulter

A strong sense of purpose is a vital component of resilience and in many schools, this will have kept people going at those tough times. We need to keep working hard to connect all our employees to the Trust purpose using a variety of communication and engagement channels, both virtually and face-to-face. Many Trusts invested in direct Trust-wide communication during the pandemic and this is something that staff valued and should continue.

Finally, the labour market shortages are really starting to bite schools and whilst there are worries about teacher retention, I am hearing more than ever that many are struggling to recruit and retain support staff. Trusts can leverage the apprenticeship levy to create professional development pathways and to support recruitment. Support staff often feel less valued than their teaching colleagues and right now they will have many other career opportunities open to them outside of school. Trusts can ensure the language they use is inclusive (never using the term ‘non-teaching!’) and that the benefits and opportunities to develop, are just as much focused on those that support those in the classroom as those in it.