There is so much work and preparation that goes into being a teacher – as a school leader, you see what your teachers have to offer on a daily basis – their relationships with pupils and families, their commitments toward improving their practice, and the teamwork they demonstrate with their colleagues.
According to data released by the Office for National Statistics, the suicide rate of primary school teachers in England is nearly double the national average. Figures reveal that, between 2011 and 2015, the risk of suicide among primary and nursery school teachers was 42 percent higher than that of the broader population of England.
The startling figures have been published amid warnings that increasing pressures in the profession have made teaching “one of the most highly stressed occupations in the country today”, with a number of former and current teachers reporting that unmanageable workloads have impacted negatively on their mental health.
It is vital that you have a comprehensive, whole-school approach to mental health and emotional wellbeing, to ensure that staff and pupils are happy and safe. The link between low morale and poor teacher retention is well documented, and can severely impact on pupil behaviour and attainment.
You may not be able to shield staff from the uncertainty created by continual government reforms and budget restraints, but you can introduce low-cost and easy-to-implement strategies.
Reduce teacher workload
Leaders can help to reduce teacher workload through effective and clearly communicated rationales and processes for feedback and planning. There must also be a clear expectation for the roles of staff in terms of subject leadership.
By having a clear, yearly timetable for monitoring and appraisals, teachers should be able to manage their time most effectively without unexpected requests for work.
Michael Woolf, headteacher at a faith school in Cheshire, recommended to us that, when headteachers are looking at planning, preparation and assessment (PPA), they should ask themselves the following questions:
- Is PPA being done efficiently, or are there better ways which would save time?
- Are teachers doing too much admin which could be delegated to office staff?
- Are staff trying to reinvent the wheel too much?
- Can displays, extra-curricular activities etc. be done differently?
Ms Tomlinson, a headteacher at an MAT in Cheshire said that she believes the best way to help reduce teacher workload is by ensuring that PPA is, wherever possible, one long session which is consistent each week – this allows teachers to prioritise workload around the session and, in larger schools, it can be undertaken as a team.
“We cover PPA using sports coaches and an ICT teacher who rotate to teach the two classes within a year group, for either a morning or an afternoon. Teachers and support staff in each team are released so that they can work together on short and medium term plans, and prepare resources in advance. The way in which we cover PPA reduces workload for teachers, as the ICT and PE sessions are planned and assessed by the specialist teacher/coach”, Ms Tomlinson added.
Ms Tomlinson also highlighted the importance of “using some allocated staff meeting time for specific activities that are required at specific times of the year.”
“For example, we allocate an INSET day in June for staff to start their report writing and then a couple of staff meetings for a continuation of this,” she added.
We also suggest that schools could also consider looking into scheduling an INSET training block during a week containing a bank holiday, which will allow your school to have four days of consecutive training – parents can book a week’s holiday using slightly less annual leave and it will mean that your school will have one statutory INSET day remaining, to utilise for urgent training requirements.
Ken Lloyd, National Leader of Governance and chair of governors for two secondary governance boards, said that whilst there is a lot of guidance out there, it boils down to applying reasonable expectations, structured timetabling and prioritised delivery.
Mr Lloyd argued that all teaching staff will work under a heavy workload at times of the year, and this is ok, as long as this doesn’t turn into a continuous high-demand – “no one has the ability to continually work flat out”.
The importance of staff wellbeing
Mr Lloyd said ensuring staff wellbeing “comes down to seeing staff as more like part of an extended family rather than part of a delivery mechanism. That approach involves being interested and observant of the things that are going on.”
Below are a few ideas which leaders can adopt in their school to ensure the wellbeing of their staff is maintained.
Lead by example: If you are a senior teacher or leader, ensure you model safe and healthy working practices – an emphasis on emotional wellbeing means nothing if it is not being actively demonstrated by those at the top.
Working hours: There will always be exceptions, but consider putting parameters in place for working hours, e.g. 7am to 6pm. Discourage staff from taking work home and limit what is appropriate in the school holidays.
Email curfew: Do you really need to send that email at 9pm or could it wait until the morning? If it really is urgent, consider whether a phone call is more appropriate. Too many teachers check their emails late at night and feel they have to reply immediately.
Staff room: Try to create a work-free environment in the staff room, so that the emphasis is on resting and recharging. Chatting about problems and sharing ideas should be encouraged, but marking, planning and completing paperwork should be discouraged.
Regular praise and thanks: Don’t underestimate the value of recognising the effort and achievements of members of staff. Everybody likes to be appreciated for their hard work and making the time to acknowledge it will go a long way.
Random acts of kindness: Examples include leaving a bowl of fresh fruit in the staff room, or some spare change and a ‘pay it forward’ note left in an envelope attached to the snack vending machine, or a kind note for someone going through a tough time. Small random acts of kindness build staff morale, and spread quickly throughout a team, particularly if they are anonymous.
Mr Woolf said, as a leader, you should “make all staff feel valued – this could be something very simple like a note in the staff room thanking them for their work, or a box of biscuits – which are always well received,” he added.
A good way to ensure the wellbeing of your staff is to make sure you know them well, Ms Tomlinson said: “If you know your staff well, you can pick up on cues that suggest they are struggling and you can act to address any issues before they become overwhelming – talk to staff about what it is they are struggling with and work with them to prioritise and suggest solutions.”
Our Staff Wellbeing Policy outlines the responsibilities of individuals to monitor and maintain wellbeing among staff.
A good starting place with regards to CPD is to have a policy in place; however, whether your school has a policy or not, all schools should understand how important staff development is. In today’s teacher recruitment climate, it is even more important to make sure you retain the staff you have by investing in them through CPD.
CPD activities are usually provided by either external expertise – through courses, studying or private providers – or through school networks. School networks are a good way to access a lot of knowledge, skills and mentors that your school may be unable to provide, while keeping costs down. Accessing knowledge and skills that already exist within your school is another great option financially.
Ms Tomlinson offered TheSchoolBus her tips for providing CPD training to teachers:
- “Offer CPD as identified within performance management to address personal, as well as, school-based issues.
- In-house CPD is often very effective with colleagues acting as a coach or mentor.
- New initiatives should be supported by appropriate training and on-going review.
- Resilience training – giving staff the strategies to take ownership of their work/life balance and responsibility for creating their own solutions to perceived problems.”
Unsurprisingly, teacher morale is on the decline across the country. This is due to several factors, such as pay caps, unbearable workloads and fears over funding cuts.
It can take more than one approach to boost teacher morale successfully – and this will differ between schools; it’s about finding the right strategy that works for your school.
Ms Tomlinson outlines a few points which can be implemented in schools to ensure morale among teachers in the face of financial cuts and redundancies:
- “Let them know they are valued and that staff are our greatest resource and, when effectively deployed, have the greatest impact on outcomes for children.
- Enlist their help with minimising non-staffing budget items in order to maintain staffing levels.
- Keep them informed of the possible impacts of funding cuts, and what plans are in place to minimise these.
- Remind teachers/staff of their strengths and what they have achieved.
- Look at their skill sets and deploy staff according to these strengths so that they can ‘feel’ the difference that they make.”
Our Reviewing Staffing Structures guidance document outlines the factors to take into consideration, and the questions to ask, when reviewing staffing structures within a school.
Mr Lloyd is chair of governors at two secondary schools in currently one of the worst funded counties in the UK, having lived with shrinking real-terms budgets for several years, yet still “knocks out sound and above average results”.
One of the reasons for this is accredited to the maintenance of staff morale: “In my school, staff are engaged in setting the priorities for the school and curriculum areas, and the senior leadership team have enforced a set of values on the pupils that provides a calm and purposeful teaching environment – they are spoken to as equals, difficult conversations are had in a constructive and sympathetic way, those who need to go, leave on good terms.
“Staff have watched funding be stripped away from a non-teaching based budget, watched the associate staff dwindle in numbers, the curriculum shrink, teaching groups increase in size, and seen the money juggling that needs to go on to keep the priorities moving. Through it all they know they are highly regarded and that what money there is, is used to deliver effective teaching and learning.
“When a pupil toilet block had a revamp, a staff facility was also done. They feel valued and wanted – they are part of the family!”
Our Staff Wellbeing – The Role of the Governing Body guidance document highlights the role that governors have to play in ensuring staff wellbeing is high on the school agenda.
Happy pupils achieve more and they need staff that are appreciated and considered in the same way as their younger charges. School leaders and governors can do a great deal to help make sure their school is a great place to be for all, even in the face of financial adversity.
May Bulman (2017) ‘Primary school teachers’ suicide rate nearly double national average, figures reveal’ <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/primary-school-teachers-suicide-rate-double-national-average-uk-figures-a7635846.html> [Accessed: 15 May 2017]
Sophie Scott (2016) ‘Highest teacher leaving rate in a decade – and 6 other things we learned about the school workforce’, <http://schoolsweek.co.uk/highest-teacher-leaving-rate-in-a-decade-and-6-other-things-we-learned-about-the-school-workforce/ > [Accessed: 15 May 2017]