She knew she had to do something to improve the troubling school and she knew she had do it fast writes The Guardian.
Together with her leadership team two changes were made. A new English and phonics scheme was implemented and to combat low morale a staff wellbeing team was created.
Many of the teaching staff volunteered to help. Two years later, the results have been extraordinary. The school’s Ofsted rating has improved to good with three outstanding elements and the school has gone from being in the lowest 10% to the top 20% for progress in reading and maths. The staff are much happier and the school has more of a family feel to it.
Ms Lang encourages other schools to adopt this approach and has a few pointers to help get them started with their own wellbeing teams.
It is very important each staff member is honest and open about what they felt. The first meeting included a lot of hard truths but it was needed. It was clear that the changes from the top had implemented had caused staff a great deal of stress, but they were still keen to engage with further training and development. “While I was part of the problem, I also wanted to be part of the solution” said Ms Lang.
All staff were encouraged to complete a wellbeing survey so that the leadership can understand the main concerns and use this as a benchmark for ensuring performance. At the beginning of our journey, 42% of staff said they got the support they needed for their job, 45% felt supported by their line manager and 20% of staff didn’t feel inspired to do their job.
Dealing with change was the biggest issue along with issues around fairness and consistency in the school, in terms of staff hours and overtime and behaviour expectations. Certain procedures, including a behaviour policy was introduced, which went some way towards addressing this. Workload, in particular the administrative side was a huge burden on all the teaching staff.
Something that was clearly an issue for all staff was getting their work-life balance in check. It’s not new news teacher workload has been spiralling out of control and one of the reasons attributed to why so many are leaving the profession.
As well as the new photocopier and help with laminating by employing an intern, the school ran training sessions for the school’s new English and phonics scheme. A member of the senior leadership team would go to the year group PPA (planning, preparation and assessment) sessions and offer support, working alongside the teachers. During inset days’ time was set aside to prepare resources.
The teaching assistants, many of whom took phonics groups, had their own weekly PPA session to prepare resources, share good practice and ask the phonics lead teacher questions. In September 2016 a no-marking policy across the school, meaning all feedback is given verbally. “It’s a change we were nervous about but which has had an immeasurable impact on our staff,” said Ms Lang
Ideas on how to manage workload effectively were shared amongst the wellbeing team through regular staff meetings. Sharing resources between different teams has been an effective approach, as well as writing weekly priority lists and doing mindfulness activities.
Little things to lighten up the day
The wellbeing team started off with small light hearted gestures and initiatives. To start with a wellbeing board was displayed in the staffroom and fun, motivational posters were put in the staff toilets. Next the team started to “mug” people – by leaving mugs filled with treats, sweets and stationary for a particular member of staff. This proved particularly popular. It was up to staff who they chose to give a mug to, but the wellbeing team did also focus on those who seemed in need of a pick-me-up. The next idea to be implemented is a weekly fitness after school class.
The board is filled with details about staff nights out, information about coping with stress, and “shout outs” for staff to praise each other. The team have set up a book and DVD swap in the staff room, and the school pays a housekeeper to tidy after lunch so it can be a haven for staff (our cleaners only work in the morning).
Not all ideas can be followed up, receiving fresh flowers and fruit baskets in the staff room is something budgets cannot stretch to.
Open door policy
The school has been a much happier place since leadership team have moved to an open-door policy, prioritised staff training and supported the wellbeing team.
The survey was ran again six months after the first one took place. Almost all (96%) of the school’s staff felt inspired to do their job (this was despite support staff redundancies happening at the time), 96% felt supported by line managers and 100% of staff said they had friendships within work – all huge improvements from the March survey.
Staff also felt less stressed. In January 2018, this stress level has gone down even further from a previous average score of 3.31 out of 5 to an average 2.43 out of 5.
“Now, staff are proud of where they work, feel supported and want to see the school go from strength to strength. Some members of the wellbeing team have left, others have stayed, but it remains a force for good in our school. I don’t know how we’d get by without one,” concluded Ms Lang.
February 5, 2018