It has been an unprecedented two years with disruption to our daily norm almost beyond belief.
This has led to a significant change in our professional lives and those working in the education sector are no exception.
Staff retention during this time improved considerably. For example, according to DfE published data, the number of teachers leaving in the year to November 2020 fell by 17%. This was in most parts mirrored by the support staff, and certainly in my school we had a significant reduction in the numbers moving on.
Whilst this reduction did not extend to NQTs, there are signs that the new Early Careers Teacher Programme will help to ensure future retention.
There can be no doubt that this level of stability contributed to the consistent approach the sector took to maintaining students’ learning during the various lockdowns.
However, it comes with a sting in the tail; the increased workload, anxiety and stress that has been felt by many in the sector heralds a possible exodus.
A paper published by the Education Policy Institution in June 2021 highlights some worrying data about the numbers of staff that may leave the industry as early as 2022 - many to other professions.
The Department for Education has taken steps to address what is recognised as a national problem and created some guidance on an Education Staff Wellbeing Charter (available on gov.uk in the guidance section).
There is increased recognition that staff turnover may be significant in coming years and staff retention is aided by a good wellbeing culture.
But how do we create a culture of better wellbeing in such a way that it is consistent and manageable?
It is counter-productive to have an approach which relies on specific staff to implement, manage and amend their practice when required.
This will add significantly to their workload and in many cases be counterproductive. The same is true with making it a top-down policy, which adds pressure to your senior team. What is needed is a culture change that satisfies all staff requirements and can be integrated within the day-to-day workplace.
This is no small task!
When we think of staff wellbeing, the desired outcome is often improved attendance and retention. The way to do this is through creating an environment in which staff feel happy and content; it’s a holistic mindset.
We will all have encountered staff who feel they are being unfairly treated or are unhappy in the workplace. A wellbeing strategy should help to address their concerns. Listening to those within your setting and carrying out surveys will identify key challenges, and this solution-focused approach will result in fewer moans and an easier set of objectives.
Staff wellbeing is largely linked to two areas: physical and mental. Physical seems the easiest to address and it is often visible, but not always. Be sure to take a pro-active approach. Monitoring staff absence and ensuring back-to-work meetings take place will allow you to pick up any concerns.
Mental wellbeing is arguably harder to identify and can consist of five areas, as recognised by the NHS. These are:
- Relationships and strong bonds with family and friends
- Social contact
- Enjoyable and rewarding job role
- Eating well
- Regular physical activity
Basing your strategy around these areas will inform the solutions you implement as a school, which might include flexible working, or training and development.
There are also opportunities to sign-post all the other support available for your staff through unions, and Employee Assistance Programmes, for example.
But drafting and implementing a strategy isn’t enough. There also needs to be a culture change in how you deal with concerns, challenges and health problems, which is carried out with the staff and not done to them.
Sue Birchall is director of business and outreach at The Malling School. Access the DfE Education Staff Wellbeing Charter gov.uk/guidance/education-staff-wellbeing-charter