Along with many other schools, this year the key focus of our School Improvement Plan is to ‘improve the wellbeing of staff and children’
We chose wellbeing as a focus for many reasons:
We are a happy and stable staff, and my colleagues are a fabulous group of people who look after each other and genuinely care about one another. We have an experienced leadership team, and always aim to take account of how people are feeling and the pressure they are under when trying new approaches and changes to practice. Even so, it has become more and more clear that workload is becoming untenable and wellbeing is suffering a result. I feel that we have felt obligated at times to put policies in place that seem to be there to collect evidence for Ofsted rather than solely to improve the learning of the children in our care. We want to change this.
We work with other local schools, some of who have seen the number of applicants for permanent teacher posts drop drastically in the last few years. Where once you might have had 50 experienced teachers applying, now we are lucky to get 10. The message is simple – we have to be better at looking after the people we already have in post.
All of us are aware of the pressure that the children feel. We do all we can to make teaching inspiring and to give children the chance to shine and develop their individual talents. The relentless national focus on judging schools by measuring achievement mainly in maths and English have made this harder to deliver, and along with many other schools we have not always got the balance right.
Above all, childhood is so precious, and teaching should be such a privilege, that we wanted to bring more joy to everyday life in school. Every day should have something special about it. Children should feel motivated and able to put all their effort and energy into every task, especially the ones they find difficult or where the content they have to learn is not the most exciting.
We have gone about this in a number of ways. Here are some of the key ones:
Wellbeing has deliberately been put at the centre of our School Improvement Plan. We want to be held to account for getting this right.
Our feedback policy has been revised, with the aims of reducing the time spent marking while giving children better guidance about what they need to do to improve their work. Maths feedback is now all verbal (apart from ticks and crosses showing right or wrong answers). Teachers now have more time to think about what children are really struggling with and to decide what are the best things they can do to help them, instead of writing long comments in their books and battling with the children to get them to act on them – or even read them. Marking of writing will now focus on how children can improve the piece of work they have just finished rather than identifying ‘next steps’. Again, lots of this feedback is verbal. This should make sure the children really understand what they are being asked to do, and that they remain motivated by not being repeatedly told how their work could be better in the future.
Our PPA arrangements have changed so that teachers now have a full day every fortnight in their year teams. We have also kept our planning days – each half term year teams have a day together to plan the next half term’s work. This means that teachers have four full days together every 6/7 weeks. The cost of this takes a significant part of our school improvement budget, but it is worth every penny to see the inspirational ideas the teachers come up with to deliver the curriculum.
Staff are challenging each other to take part in some form of activity outside school, and then celebrating this. September is exercise – staff are sharing their exploits on a board in the staffroom, showing how far they have run, walked, cycled or swum. People have set their own targets, and there is lots of encouragement and interest in what each other are doing. We have plans for October – possibly a bake off – and will try something new every month.
Our CDP Coordinator have devised an individualised training plan that will support all staff in developing their professional skills based on their career stage and aspirations. Training is central to good quality teaching, and good professional development is vital to everyone. We have invested a big proportion of our School Improvement Plan funding into this area, as we believe it will make a big difference to h our effectiveness in our various roles – as well as how we feel about ourselves.
The number of learning objectives that teachers will be using to measure children’s progress has been reduced to a number of key ones. We want and need good quality assessment that makes a difference to learning, and doesn’t take so much time that teachers have none left to plan work based on the outcomes.
This school year with a morning’s input from Kev House from the ‘Being Brilliant’ team – what an amazing experience. He talked about how happiness is a choice; how we all have a massive impact on everyone we meet; how we need to set ourselves huge goals and to develop our bouncebackability skills; how we need to be clear about our strengths and then play to them; and how we all have a personal responsibility for our own wellbeing. Again, a big investment, but a message we will come back to regularly throughout the year.
As a school community we all have really high expectations for our children, and know they will still achieve excellent results in national tests this year. We won’t, however, be mentioning ‘SATs’, or telling them that they need to learn things for a test or for next year. We want them to learn because learning is exciting and because what we have offered them is interesting, not because of what is being measured.
We will be surveying staff in the next few weeks to find out what other steps we need to take – and will then be acting on these outcomes. It looks like being an interesting year. I will be updating on twitter regularly (@Exe_Head) if you want to see how it’s going.