The cumulative effect of annually missing recruitment targets to Initial Teacher Training and chronically poor retention means if you don’t love the teachers you’ve got another school will be more than happy to welcome them. I’ve always maintained that we can’t recruit our way out of the pending crisis; retention will be the key to having a full staffing establishment in the years ahead.
Whilst some more enlightened school leaders have always seen the human in human resources others have just seen the resource first and foremost. Whether out of a changing view or simple self-interest school leaders will have to think much more about teachers’ workload, well-being and work/home balance.
You won’t get it right all the time or for every single, individual teacher but you can seek to establish a school culture that allows people to flourish professionally and personally. Here are my five takeaways; most cost nothing, will reduce your workload as a leader and have a positive impact on the quality of education you provide.
Ditch Annual Performance Related Pay
This was a bad idea when it was introduced and looks an even worse one as the years go by. It causes great angst for teachers in the early years of their career when a thousand pound pay rise is really needed. They shouldn’t be worrying about moving up the scale; rather getting the basic professional building blocks in place that will establish them in the classroom. If you’re an academy you have all the pay flexibilities you need. Up until Friday we had automatic progression from M1-3; a pay bar at M3 when we look at three years’ worth of information and following a move to M4 pay progression is automatic until M6. There were pay bars between the points on the Upper Pay Spine. Following a few weeks consultation we now have automatic pay progression on the main and upper pay scales unless a teacher is subject to capability. Senior leaders are no longer spending a single second analysing or agonising over data and pay decisions. Pay’s off the table; we can get on and focus on the challenging business of school improvement.
I also don’t think it’s worth debating whether to fully implement proposed pay increases; you can’t afford not to be competitive on salaries no matter the state of the budget.
Create Weekly/Fortnightly Time for Collaborative Planning
For over a decade now pupils have finished half an hour early on a Thursday and staff have benefitted from two hours of professional development time. We’ve sometimes shot ourselves in the foot with the time being filled with a bit too much admin or needless whole staff information briefings. Increasingly the weekly two hours has been given over to departments to develop schemes of learning – including assessments, knowledge organisers and input on how to address key pupil misconceptions – for the ever changing curriculum. At a primary level the two primary schools have organised PPA time so the teachers for a particular year group can work together, often with our Maths and English Leads, to plan and develop collaboratively the units of learning for the weeks ahead. Alongside a greater emphasis on collaborative planning of the expected learning, we have removed our daft/draconian expectations around marking.
Extra INSET Days
You can never have enough time particularly when there is concurrent and substantial curriculum change from early years to post-16. Extra INSET days given to teachers to work together planning the learning for the term ahead and how particularly aspects can be taught has been hugely appreciated by staff. We normally have seven a year; spaced out so nearly every half term starts with a collaborative planning day helps massively with reducing workload and increasing quality. There’s always a balance but 188 days of real well organised, carefully thought through and effectively delivered learning benefits our pupils. It’s another academy freedom that should be extended to all schools; madness that it isn’t. And on each INSET day there is a cooked meal for all staff paid for by the schools/Trust; it’s the least we can do.
No Graded Lesson Observations
I struggle with why any school would grade lessons anymore. The grading isn’t worth the paper it’s written on; it takes loads of leaders’ time that could be better spent on other things. We stopped grading lessons about four years ago and then attempted, for a couple of years, to give feedback against a set of critieria, to help people improve a specific aspect of practice. Call it stupid or brave but in the end we just gave up on the whole thing the September before we expected all three academies to be inspected by Ofsted. As a bit of an aside we do twenty minute observations – followed by coaching, team teaching and modelling around a particular aspect of practice – for all newly qualified teachers. This has really helped accelerate their development during the first year.
Reduce Teachers’ Contact Time in Return for Enhanced Professional Development
Up to now the ideas have actually been at no cost (except lunches on INSET Day) and some will actually save you significant amount of leadership time. This one does cost but could be offset by a smaller leadership team following reductions in the school’s monitoring programme.
Last September we reduced all teachers’ contact time by about an hour a week; the equivalent of five days less contact time a year in return for staff undertaking additional professional development that would help them do their job that little bit better. At a secondary level teachers’ timetables were reduced by an hour a week and primary teachers have five days of supply cover available per year. The professional development being undertaken varies from Masters (paid for by the Trust with “golden handcuffs”) to coaching conversations between two staff looking to improve a particular aspect of teaching/pupils’ learning. It’s too early to determine whether the will have impact on outcomes but no-one’s complained about the new system yet. I can’t say that about all the ideas I’ve implemented over the years.
There’s still a lot of work to do in building the culture we want. Some of our systems need to be simplified; same impact with less effort. There is the potential for some jobs to be shifted from teachers to newly employed support staff. Our professional development is good and getting better but there is further improvement possible. Finally, the challenges of becoming a Research School is starting to show in our everyday practice; much more thought going into whether an initiative should or shouldn’t be introduced and hopefully in time an evaluative strand that will identify what we should simply stop doing; it’s not worth the time or effort.