As governors, we are always making sure that the experience of pupils is the best it can be. We make sure the curriculum is full and varied, we make sure the environment is as vibrant and interesting as possible, and we even check out the arrangements for food and water during the day.
But what about the staff?
Headlines will tell us that teachers, in general, are feeling very stressed and that morale across the profession is low. Teaching staff say they have no work-life balance and many are considering leaving the profession.
In this article, we will highlight the role that governors have to play in ensuring staff wellbeing is high on the school agenda.
Recognise staff wellbeing as vital
The largest expenditure of a school’s budget is its salary bill. We need teachers in front of children but more than that, we need teachers who are motivated, enthusiastic and have the energy to deliver the curriculum. Employees have a duty of care to themselves, and we have to hope that teachers will be mindful of their own needs and manage these, but it is key that governors recognise that the wellbeing of staff will be a major factor in the success of the school. Governors can make sure that staff wellbeing is recognised as being a vital element of school life by:
- Making clear the expectations of the full governing body (FGB) to school leaders.
- Modelling an open and honest system of sharing concerns, anxieties and support needed.
- Adding staff wellbeing as a regular item to the FGB agenda – this will ensure it is given the status it deserves. After all, you wouldn’t dream of an agenda without standards or finance on it!
- Undertaking an annual staff wellbeing survey. Don’t make it too long and involved, but give a grading system say of 1-5 and simple questions like ‘Is this a happy place to work in’ or ‘Do you feel supported in your work’. The important thing is that the results are analysed, shared and acted upon.
Interrogate the information
Many of the complaints about workload concern operational matters such as writing reports, planning the curriculum and the meeting schedule. It is not the role of governors to organise these but it is their job to ask questions about them when they come up at committee meetings. Be mindful of what you are being told and question whether the arrangements are practical.
Consider the following:
- Ask about staff absence and check the trend. If it is going up, ask why.
- Question new initiatives not only for the benefit to pupils but also to how practically they can be embedded, and if additional support or resources are needed.
- Question the expectations on leaders as they progress up the career ladder. It is very easy to just add more and more responsibility without considering where the time and energy come from.
- Check data that comes to you, for instance, information about behaviour. If there has been an increase in exclusions or sanctions, ask if the policy is robust enough and are staff adhering to it or do they need additional training? Consider if the policy may need changing.
- When reviewing school policies such as complaints and whistleblowing, ask about their use and the impact they have. It is pointless having policies that staff are nervous of using for fear of reprisals.
Governors are able to be proactive in supporting staff wellbeing and this can be done by promoting a philosophy and culture of support and consideration. Asking the right questions in the following areas can send a message to the senior leadership team that, although they will be undertaking these tasks, governors hold staff wellbeing as vital and will be following them up.
Governors can achieve this by:
- Holding staff to account for their practice will be received in a positive way if the feedback is given in a constructively.
- Providing training in the form of continued professional development or coaching sends the message of value to staff, both teaching and support staff.
- Developing a culture of growing your own leaders so that staff are encouraged to commit to the school.
- Setting up a staff wellbeing committee that is not micro-managed but whose recommendations are considered at FGB meetings.
- Investigating the option of a counselling service for staff possibly through occupational health.
Then there are the simple things:
- Sending a thank you card at the end of the term.
- Celebrating new births and special birthdays, again with a card. Small gestures go a long way.
- Setting aside a budget for free coffee and tea or offering flu jabs to staff.
- Supporting the release of staff to attend their children’s milestone events, like end of key stage assemblies or their first nativity.
Happy pupils achieve more and they need staff that are appreciated and considered in the same way as their younger charges. Governors can do a great deal to help make sure your school is a happy school for all.