Wellbeing: Looking after your staff

Written by: Jenny Moore | Published:
Photo: iStock

Jenny Moore suggests seven ways to address the teacher workload challenge and improve staff wellbeing this year

We all know that school leaders and teachers care deeply about their pupils, but who is caring for you?

Concerns over the wellbeing of both school staff and pupils have been in the spotlight in recent months.

The Key’s summer report revealed that 79 per cent of secondary school leaders are worried about young people’s mental health, and more than three in five school leaders surveyed for our annual State of Education report told us that their own mental health has been negatively affected by their job.

Sadly, it wasn’t much of a surprise that nine out of every 10 school leaders we surveyed said their work/life balance could be improved, and more than eight in 10 found managing teacher workload more difficult than any other challenge over the past year.

Addressing teacher workload is the first step towards improving staff wellbeing, and this means developing a more positive working culture across the whole school.

As part of our #CelebrateMySchool campaign we want to start this school year with positivity and make sure that you and your staff are looked after. So while there’s still time to set about doing things a bit differently, here are seven tips on starting afresh with teacher workload and improving wellbeing in 2015/16.

What would they change?

It might seem obvious, but it is a good starting point to ask your staff what they would like to change. You can do this through a staff survey, or by setting up working groups to discuss specific issues or areas you want to address.

If you want to ask teachers specifically about workload, why not ask them to complete a working week diary? Teachers can use this to record details of the work they do and how long it takes. Or you can ask them to fill in a form recording tasks they do that someone else could do. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has a work/life balance toolkit that could be a useful aid (see further information).

Whatever format your survey takes, what’s important is that teachers see that you are willing to listen to them and are open to taking their opinions on board.

Workload implications of policies

With the new school year there are bound to be updates to school policies under way. In the process, think about the knock-on effect of any changes you make. Will your policy updates have a significant impact on workload? If so, carry out a workload impact assessment. This extends to all staff, not just teachers. Try, also, to consult those affected by the policy on the proposed changes – it might save you the time of doing a workload impact assessment later on.

Reduce time spent on marking/paperwork

In the responses to the Department for Education’s Workload Challenge, marking came high on the list of tasks that teachers spend time on. Are your expectations of marking clearly set out in a policy? Consider using a range of feedback methods, including peer-review. A recent blog post from Alex Quigley – Have We Got Feedback Backwards? – also looks at different ways of providing effective feedback while saving time.

Before marking, though, there are the lessons themselves. Ask yourself: do all teachers need to write an individual plan for every lesson? How much detail does there really need to be? While expectations will be different depending on teachers’ levels of experience, consider how much evidence of planning you need to see, and how you might use technology to reduce the time teachers spend on this. The five-minute lesson plan from @TeacherToolkit may provide some inspiration (see further information).

Ensure teachers get PPA time

The more time teachers have within school hours to do planning, preparation and assessment (PPA), the less work they will have to do after school. Make sure you have a strategy in place so that your teachers get their PPA time. This could involve using higher level teaching assistants or other experienced teaching assistants for cover, or arranging for lessons with specialist instructors to take place at that time.

Alternatively, one academy in Hertfordshire has changed the hours of the school day so that Friday afternoon is now “PPA afternoon”, with optional childcare for a small charge.

Getting the culture right

It is important to have a working culture which allows teachers (and all staff) to feel they can talk about their stresses and worries. There is not a quick fix for this, but showing that you want to hear your colleagues’ opinions is a good starting point. Making surveys anonymous, at least to start with, can encourage more staff to share their views than might otherwise be the case.

Another simple step is encouraging staff to take their breaks – preferably in a shared space where they can socialise with other members of staff – and discouraging them from staying for hours after the school day ends.

Don’t forget about the small things

Small things like providing free tea and coffee go a long way. I spoke to the senior vice-principal of a Teaching School in Coventry where the staff benefits package includes free hot drinks, and she said that staff always say they feel the package enhances their work environment.

Lead by example

Finally, try leading by example and taking on some of these points yourself. You deserve the break just as much as your teaching staff.

  • Jenny Moore is a specialist researcher at The Key, which provides leadership and management support to schools.

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