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Teacher welfare must be at the heart of everything schools do

March 11, 2020, 14:12 GMT+1
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  • Wellbeing now! Or pay later. It's that simple, says Louise Smith...
Teacher welfare must be at the heart of everything schools do

Teaching is a hugely rewarding profession, but it also has its pressures, and these can seriously affect wellbeing.

At our trust of six primary schools in Warrington and the surrounding area, we have placed the wellbeing of our staff at the centre of everything that we do.

We’ve taken a multi-stranded approach to protecting and promoting wellbeing.

Firstly, we are constantly scanning for signs of stress and poor wellbeing through our regular staff surveys. The approach, which is based on the Better Place to Work programme, has been part of trust life since we launched in 2016.

The programme consists of an anonymous staff survey that allows colleagues to say how they are feeling in a range of measures, including motivation, making a difference, conflict and feedback.

Our aim is to have all areas with a score of five or above. That leads to a green on the grid, indicating a high degree of staff wellbeing. Ambers and red, as you would expect, are indicators of low or poor levels of wellbeing.

The results can be analysed on an individual school basis as well as for different cross-trust teams, such as the senior leadership team, teaching assistants and teachers.

The wellbeing survey is carried out every three months. It works because it gives everyone an opportunity to say exactly how they are feeling and be confident that their views will be anonymous.

The survey would be an empty exercise if the results weren’t used to trigger action.

We noticed in one response that the ‘feeling valued’ measure had not moved on from the previous survey and that our leadership team had scored that area the lowest.

That prompted us to hold an activity in which each SLT member was invited to write short, supportive comments that expressed their thanks to each of their colleagues so that at the end of the activity each had an envelope containing a collection of six messages.

It was a simple, quick activity but it gave everyone an opportunity to tell colleagues how much they valued them. And it helped: at the next survey that stagnant results had improved noticeably.

The Better Place to Work survey was set up with support from a coach called Chris Whitely, who pointed out that while we were good at making sure that our parents were happy, we rarely asked staff how they felt about their jobs.

We were conscious about giving our staff another paper exercise, so we decided to do the survey online and make sure that it took just three to four minutes to complete.

And because the survey is online, it makes it easy to interpret the data in various ways so that we can work out which teams might need more support, either in individual schools or across the trust.

As well as alerting you to where wellbeing issues might be developing, it also means that we can work out which teams are happiest. We can then pair those teams up so they can learn from and support each other.

We also provide mental health training for every staff member so they can recognise when things are getting on top of them or their colleagues – and where they can go for help.

Our mental health first aiders – members of staff trained to support colleagues and signpost extra help and support if they need it – are often the first port of call for anyone wanting confidential support.

Louise Smith is CEO of Warrington Primary Academy Trust, a MAT consisting of six primary schools in the Warrington area.