It won’t have passed you by that there is a shortage of teachers and, as well as encouraging people into the profession, governing boards need to consider their role in retaining teachers. The governing board has a duty of care to its employees and should ensure their health, safety and wellbeing at work. This should include measures to prevent staff from working excessive hours and consulting employees on issues that concern them.
It is the governing board’s responsibility to set the school’s values and ethos, but they need to be owned and lived by all in the school, including the pupils. When were those values last considered and communicated, and do they resonate with staff? Do they have any bearing on the issue of staff wellbeing? Are they visible in the conduct and decisions of governors and leaders?
The culture of an organisation - the way things get done around here - should flow from those values and ethos, but it may have developed over many years and might not be perceived in the same way by everyone. The culture will usually be affected by a change of school leadership, but not to the same extent if it truly comes from the school’s values and ethos which stand the test of time.
As a governing board, how do we know that our schools are healthy organisations? The governing board needs to be aware of the culture and climate at the school, and to do that, must make sure they hear from the school’s staff. There are various ways of doing this, but it should include a regular staff survey, so that the views and needs of staff need can be set alongside the views and needs of parents and pupils.
The majority of governing boards receive data on staff absence and turnover, but only about a quarter receive summary reports of the exit interviews of staff who have left. Today the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has published an Analysis of Teacher Retention, which found that the key to retaining teachers was by making sure that they remained engaged in the profession. Engagement was measured based on teachers’ “opinions of the school management, communication within the school, how satisfied they are with their job, opportunities for professional development, resources available to them and whether they feel part of the school community”.
Being supported by management and having an effective governing board also ranked highly as factors for teachers wanting to stay in the profession. On the other hand, teachers leaving the profession reported that a lack of flexibility and support to cope with workload was one of several factors that influenced their decision.
Many governors have been concerned about low morale of staff, but haven’t always taken that next step of actively asking what they and the school leadership could do to improve it. Many accepted that it was all due to government policy changes and Ofsted pressures; we should have asked more often whether school policy, practice and culture is contributing.
This is not a green light for governors to get involved in setting marking policies or lesson planning practice, but to ask senior leaders questions of any change in policy and practice: have staff been involved in setting it?; what consequences will it have for workload of staff?; if they are adding to the workload, is this the priority?; and how will the impact of the policies be monitored?
Research has demonstrated links between being happier in a job and being better at a job, and happy school staff are likely to make for happy pupils. Schools need to be good, vibrant places to work as well as to learn. As we start the new school year, let’s make sure we use every lever available to achieve this.
These ideas are expanded upon in Emma’s chapter in ‘Managing Teacher Workload: A Whole-School Approach to Finding the Balance’, a new book edited by Nansi Ellis.