To support those governing in carrying out their duties as employers, or as the body exercising employer responsibility, we have recently published two new pieces of guidance. We have heard the concerns of those governing, through our annual survey and trips around the country, that they often lack confidence in carrying out these duties. Our guidance therefore discusses how governing boards can monitor staff wellbeing and workload, and potential strategies in response. We have also published a piece to support those governing in controlling staffing costs.
One of the biggest issues which we have tried to address is considering how those governing can monitor their staff’s wellbeing. This is easier said than done, as those governing will often have no, or very little, interaction with staff who do not themselves govern. Furthermore, those governing cannot simply rely on reports from senior leaders, as part of their role is holding senior leaders to account for their management of the school or trust’s staff.
So how can those governing monitor staff wellbeing? Our guidance sets out some of the options which are at the disposal of governing boards:
Staff absence and turnover data
This should be one of the most easily accessible sources of information for governing boards, as the school should already be collecting it, and sharing it with the board. The data should be reviewed in its context as the specific reasons for staff being absent and staff leaving the school may not relate to workload or wellbeing. Nonetheless, the data can be a useful starting point for investigations. Boards should be considering whether there has been a recent increase in absence or turnover levels and, if so, why this might be. For example, are younger teachers leaving for opportunities elsewhere because the school did not offer enough chances for development internally? As always, there are often very reasonable explanations, but the key thing is that the governing board have the knowledge to ask the right questions.
According to our 2018 governance survey, just 58% of boards were using staff surveys despite this being one of the most effective ways to capture feedback and identify issues that impact upon wellbeing and the working environment. While the survey will usually be designed and carried out by senior leaders, governing boards should be consulted on the proposed content, and be given access to the results. A routine evaluation of staff (annually or bi-annually) is sensible, and allows trends to be identified if questions are not changed. If trends are revealed, this should be used by the governing board as the starting point for further investigation.
It is also possible to carry out more targeted surveys, which address a particular issue in greater depth. This can be appropriate where an area of interest has already been identified, and the board or senior leaders want to gain a further understanding of staff opinions. Efforts should be made to encourage staff participation, including by stressing that responses will be kept anonymous.
We advise all schools to conduct exit interviews with members of staff who are leaving but our 2018 survey found that just 24% of respondents’ governing boards were receiving summary reports of exit interviews. These interviews can be very valuable as a way of obtaining honest feedback from a departing member of staff about their experiences at the school, and their reasons for departure. The fact that an individual is leaving can sometimes persuade them to be more open about their opinions than they had been previously.
As with staff surveys, the format and question will usually be determined by school leaders but this should be done in consultation with the governing board. In some cases, particularly where a senior member of staff has departed, the governing board will need to appoint one of its members to conduct the interview themselves. Regardless of who conducts the interview, the board should be receiving a summary of the interview(s) and using this to inform their challenge of senior leader.
Balancing exit interview responses against the staff survey results from the whole staff body is sensible.
Of course, monitoring the wellbeing and workload of your staff is only worthwhile if it leads to actions in response. The majority of these will be proposed and implemented by senior leaders, but it is still important that those governing are aware of the options available to the school, so they can properly challenge senior leaders. As well as suggesting ways in which your governing board can monitor staff wellbeing, the guidance also covers how ideas for improving the working environment can be tested and proposes strategies that promote wellbeing and help to reduce workload in schools
For those governing, it is important to feel confident in carrying out their duties as employers, or as the body exercising employer responsibility. This guidance joins our existing professional development offer, and our bespoke GOLDline advice service, in supporting those governing in gaining this confidence.
Read our guidance on staff wellbeing
Trust Governance Specialist and South West Regional Officer
Michael specialises in trust governance, co-ordinating NGA's work with multi-academy trusts and producing tailored resources. He also leads NGA's work in the West Midlands, working closely with the region's trusts and local authorities.