Staff and Pupils’ Wellbeing – a CEO perspective
For Trust CEOs, Daniel Pink’s theory of intrinsic motivation based on autonomy, mastery and purpose may resonate in terms of our own wellbeing . Many Trust leaders share high levels of autonomy, are constantly-learning experts in their field and are driven by the deep and true purposes of civic leadership, public service and social justice. I’d suggest that, despite the tough challenges we face on a daily basis – and particularly in the last 2 years – many of us are self-motivated, have a strong sense of personal agency, and are privileged to love the work we do.
As the CEO of an average-sized Trust of around 7,500 young people and 900 staff in eight academies from primary to sixth form college, I hold a strong sense of responsibility for and commitment to their wellbeing. Despite much hard work, and Summit receiving the staff Wellbeing Charter Mark in 2021, I’m often exercised by the complexity of this issue and the barriers to achieving wellbeing for all in our Summit family. How do we, as CEOs, ensure that all our staff are able to love the work they do, too?
There is much about the roles of teaching and support in our schools that is regulated and non-negotiable. Working with young people is, whilst incredibly rewarding, also challenging, emotionally demanding and relentless. It requires resilience and a capacity for hard work; teaching has always been and will always be a very tough job. In my experience, two main factors adversely affect staff wellbeing; excessive workload (including environmental factors) and intrinsic motivation: we need to better understand how we can support our hardworking staff to maintain their energy and capacity as well as supporting their wellbeing.
Time working remotely has enabled colleagues to glimpse a different working style and environment, and temporarily removed some of the demands of in-person teaching (whilst introducing others). The return to school following multiple lockdowns has been a return to normal plus; all the usual IRL workload demands with additional Covid-related features. Add being in an Ofsted inspection ‘window’, and/or the need to rapidly improve the quality of provision into the mix, and the day-to-day workload demands can seem overwhelming. Indeed, the recent TES wellbeing report revealed that fewer than two in five (38%) of school staff feel confident performing their roles, compared to 79% in 2020. The report found that 67% of staff said their workload is not manageable, three times higher than in 2020.
At Summit, we’ve been trying to mitigate this by first and foremost keeping wellbeing on our priority agenda from Board level down. Established academy and Trust wellbeing groups continue to meet regularly, as well as termly CEO Q&A sessions in each academy for any staff that want to come and offer questions, challenges or comments. Joint curriculum design and planning, and centralised 'networks of excellence' offer practical workload support and strategic, consultative central developments. We’ve centralised all our core functions to try and remove tasks from busy leaders - and we constantly review it. We have a regularly reviewed communication strategy and protocol, which constantly tries to find the elusive sweet spot between offering too much and too little information. We have increasing numbers of mental health first aiders in all our academies. And, alongside our Summit Leadership Standards, we aim to practice radical candour in our work, embracing clarity, transparency and mutual respect and save time wasted on misunderstandings and gaming. In terms of impact, staff are clear that wellbeing is high on our list of priorities, and that their views are listened to. Staff particularly appreciate the increased opportunities for flexible working and our family-friendly policies.
Over the last four years we have increased opportunities for staff to work across academies and to develop and share great practice in a range of areas, stimulating intrinsic motivation and providing creativity and mastery development as well as reducing workload. Our sector-leading work on Anti-Discrimination, Diversity, Inclusion and Equality has offered colleagues new knowledge, mastery, and a dramatically increased sense of their agency in promoting social justice. Our Summit Lead Practitioners have a full day every week to read, research, coach and support colleagues – time is the most valuable bonus we can give.
In my experience, two main factors adversely affect staff wellbeing; excessive workload (including environmental factors) and intrinsic motivation...
Our recent Edurio staff wellbeing survey reflected many positives, as well as some remaining areas for improvement, and we’re currently drilling down into a more granular analysis of what workload issues are causing most stress. We are certainly far from having solved the intricate balance of autonomy, mastery and purpose but we keep it in mind on our quest for staff wellbeing.
What of our wonderful students? At Summit, reflecting the national picture, we have seen an increase in issues of fragile mental health and a lower sense of wellbeing following the pandemic. Our academy teams have ramped up internal support and combined this with strong and improving teaching and robustly high expectations. We have made it our mantra to contest the false dichotomy between care, love and support, and high expectations and challenge. Our pupils need endless supplies of both if they are to recover and achieve future success. And, just like the adults in our academies, they need a voice and a sense of agency.
The most recent and powerful example of this is our recently formed secondary and sixth form girls’ group – the Summit Big Sisters. They are engaged on a trust and a national piece of work to tackle and eradicate sexual harassment and peer on peer abuse in our schools. This includes reviewing and rewriting curricula, staff training and raising awareness. They are fiercely determined to change their world, and we are there to help them do this.
I’m optimistic that the combination of mindful awareness of workload and our overt commitment to social justice at Summit will have an increasingly positive impact on staff and pupil wellbeing across 2022 and beyond.
 Daniel Pink Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Riverhead Hardcover 2009)