February 2020 edition: Creating A Great Place to Work

Creating A Great Place to Work

Despite all the turbulence around us with the election, Brexit, new Ofsted framework, education funding and so on, as we start the new year one issue remains a significant challenge and that’s the recruitment and retention crisis in our sector. Trust leaders are aware of the continuing challenges and it is a key strategic risk for most boards. Given how crucial teacher quality is for children, it is a top priority.

Whilst national interventions such as the DfE’s teacher recruitment and retention strategy are to be welcomed, there is no doubt in my mind that by far the bigger influence is in the hands of trust and school leaders. This was backed up recently by Edurio’s ‘Improving Staff Retention in Academies’ report, an analysis of the views of over 10,000 teachers across 322 schools that found that the biggest factor impacting the risk of resignations is the local school culture.

Whilst national interventions such as the DfE’s teacher recruitment and retention strategy are to be welcomed, there is no doubt in my mind that by far the bigger influence is in the hands of trust and school leaders.

Mandy Coalter

This was the premise of my book, ‘Talent Architects – how to make your school a great place to work.’ My purpose in writing the book was to both empower and equip school and trust leaders with the strategy and practical tools to influence employment practice in their schools and thus become great places to work.

The world of work across the UK and globally is changing rapidly. People are living longer, entering the workplace later, working more flexibly, changing careers and re-training and working well beyond expected retirement years. The employment model in schools trusts has not adapted to this and we urgently need to do so if we are to ensure the teacher supply and retention crisis does not deepen.

Based on research, evidence and experience, I developed a four-pillar model. This can be used by a trust or an individual school to develop an impactful people strategy and modernise working practices. Attracting and retaining people requires planning and few schools (and some trusts) I speak to are yet to have any kind of written ‘People’ strategy and plan. We need to put this right; we would not run our organisations without a financial plan or a school improvement plan. Yet people are 70% of our cost and clearly the resource that will most impact children.

Let’s explore two of these areas; Leadership Climate and Culture and Manageable Workloads and Well Being.

The most crucial of the 4 pillars is Leadership, Culture and Climate. It underpins all the others. It is often said that people leave a boss, not an employer and surveys across the economy usually bear this out. The Edurio report found that leadership dynamics was the biggest factor impacting retention in schools.

Many schools or trusts I work with need to do more to develop leaders at all levels before they step into leadership, with middle leaders often the most neglected and yet the most important in terms of impact on staff. Recent NAHT research found that just over 40% of surveyed middle leaders had no CPD for their role as a middle leader. We certainly would not let teachers loose on children without appropriate training!

Manageable workloads and staff well-being have rightly shot up the agenda in recent years. NFER research shows that teachers work on average a 50- hour week, more hours than nurses or police officers even accounting for school holidays. Working intense periods of long hours is well linked to ill health and stress. At the same time, we have to accept that school term time is intense so whilst attempts to reduce the workload itself are very important, we need to go beyond that and create a culture of well-being so staff are valued and cared for to be able to cope with the peak times. There are some common areas that I have seen schools and trusts address with real impact here including introducing verbal marking and feedback, reviewing homework policy and practice, centralised behaviour management systems and crucially providing resilience training to staff, particularly early careers teachers.

Alongside this, introducing flexible working is important. This not only contributes to well-being but aids recruitment and retention as well as supporting career progression of women and those with caring responsibilities. It is not easy in a school environment which has genuine structural barriers such as timetabling, but a small number of schools are challenging this and with the cultural will are overcoming those barriers. We need a radical shift in this area across our sector if we are to complete in the modern world of work for talent.

I strongly encourage trust boards and school and trust leaders to address the role of Human Resources which has a key role in leading this whole agenda. HR is often low level, reactive and transactional in nature. Whilst it performs important basic functions, these are not going to create the conditions for a great place to work. Many successful commercial, charitable and public sector businesses addressed this years ago and have HR teams at the top table impacting business strategy through a focused approach to people strategy. All trust boards need this input and we need more senior, talented HR/People professionals in Executive and Non-Executive roles.