Last school year we gave out a questionnaire to help us plan actions to improve staff wellbeing. As school leaders, we want to make sure we were doing the best for our staff and children, and to create a healthy environment that enables everyone to give of their best. We also want to keep our brilliant team together, and to give people the chance to enjoy a better work-life balance.
We carried out a follow up questionnaire at the end of the year, which showed that we have made a difference, but that there is still work to do.
As a result of last year’s questionnaire we have tried hard to make sure staff are consulted on and kept better informed about changes. For example, we gave all teachers that wanted to the chance to get involved in redesigning our school reports for this year, due to the fact that they felt they took a disproportionate amount of time to write compared to the actual information they gave to parents. The newly designed reports will be going home this year.
We also reduced the expectation for written marking, especially in maths. Interestingly, we achieved our best ever results in this year’s Key Stage 2 SATs – suggesting that the new approach is at least as effective as the policy we followed in the past.
We have also kept wellbeing to the forefront when making decisions about approaches to take, and before starting any new initiatives. School leaders asking the question ‘how will this effect workload?’ before planning anything new is a really important brake on potentially ever-increasing expectations.
We also changed our approach to lesson observations. We moved away from graded observations a few years ago, which reduced much of the associated stress that went with this activity. This year we changed to mainly peer observations, which teachers report to be far more helpful for their professional development and involve much less pressure.
This year, to keep the momentum going we decided to be as open as possible, and to ask everyone one question – ‘What do you think we can change that would reduce workload and improve wellbeing?’ This gave people the opportunity to say what they really think! The answers are interesting, and will help us to make our school a better place to work, and a healthier place for adults and children to come to every day.
The most frequent response from teachers was that there are some routine tasks that they currently do that could be carried out by admin staff. These include naming books and lockers – things that have become more time consuming as we have increased expectations for presentation. These extra tasks seem to have crept up on teachers, especially as teaching assistant time has become more stretched. I hadn’t really considered the impact of what seemed like small changes as we made them over the past couple of years.
Action 1 We will give admin staff more time, and ask them to complete these tasks for the next school year.
It is important to remember that making something an ‘admin task’ comes with a cost, both to the workload of a group of staff as well as to the school budget.
The second most common response involved communication between groups of staff. Teaching Assistants want more information about the curriculum, and teachers want clearer guidance about the support they will be able to access during the year. This is often a time issue, as well as being linked to me not allocating teachers and teaching assistants enough opportunities during the term to have professional conversations.
Action 2 We will make sure Teaching Assistants have copies of half termly plans before we start teaching the topics, and will get timetables to teachers more promptly in the future
The next most frequent set of comments were positive – teachers wanted to keep the current marking policy, which involves much greater use of verbal feedback, and has done away with written feedback completely in maths. Teachers were also really looking forward to the changes to annual reports, which will see more use of tick boxes and a huge reduction in the amount of writing required.
As part of the different approach to reports, we have introduced the use of SeeSaw, which will allow parents to see some of the work their children are doing in class. The introduction of SeeSaw, as well as the extension of our use of Mathletics, gave us our next area for action. Teachers wanted written guidance on how to use these resources, to go along with the training they received at the non-pupil days. They also were keen that we don’t introduce anything else until these initiatives are fully embedded.
Action 3 Provide crib sheets for new initiatives, and don’t add anything else in until we are sure the current new ideas are fully embedded.
The next group of responses were made by a small number of people, but are probably felt by many:
- There is a real desire for more social and fun activities that allow everyone to be involved
- Teachers would really value being given time for moving classrooms at the end of the school year
- As well as peer observations, teachers would like to be more involved in book scrutiny activities
- Teachers need more designated time to carry out subject leader or other whole school responsibilities
- We need to look again at how we analyse standardised tests to reduce the time spent deciding next steps in teaching
These are all things that we will continue to work on during the coming year.
I was really pleased with the feeling of openness and positivity that came out of the responses, and also by the fact that there wasn’t an outpouring of serious concerns.
Everyone that works in our school is committed to achieving the highest possible standards for our children. This does not need to mean increasing workload or disregarding the wellbeing of the people who make this happen.