Review: the Diverse Academies CEO blog

April 2018

Feeling the ‘love’ for our workforce
I grant you, ‘love’ isn’t a word often used in the workplace, but stay with me! For the purpose of context, I’m talking about the great interest and pleasure which we should all have – and indeed expect – from our place of work. Whatever the sector, the wellbeing of a workforce is critical, and it’s something we’re keen to focus on at the Diverse Academies.

Collectively, we dedicate our lives to the education and wellbeing of the children and young people within our care. I know we all work incredibly hard for each and every one of our students, to help them achieve their full potential. We are highly driven in this shared aim – raising expectations and ensuring the quality of what we do has the right impact. But as a trust, we also care deeply about our colleagues, who ultimately make this possible.

A [very] brief history…
If I cast my mind back over the last 31 years (when I started out as a newly qualified teacher!) a lot has changed – and not all of it for the better. In 1987 there was little formal, systematic accountability in English state education – no performance management entitlement; no formal lesson observations or visits; no National Curriculum (this arrived in 1988); no formal CPD requirements post-initial qualifying; and no Ofsted. Achievement rates for students in England were very poor compared with other developed countries. These days are sometimes referred to as ‘great’ days for teachers; they may well have been – but they were not so ‘great’ for students and their families. 

Fast forward to 2018, and some argue that there is now excessive accountability across the system. Drawing on my own recent experience as one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors, I witnessed (too often) either too much or too little accountability – both ends of the continuum being unsatisfactory. Moreover, the sector is adversely affected by the ‘noise’ around accountability – with resulting difficulties in attraction, recruitment and retention across the profession. 

Are we alone in our thinking?
No, across England all schools and academies – and I imagine most organisations – want to make their places of work the kind of places that attract and retain the best staff. Workplace wellness is core to this. Public Health England and The Work Foundation have reported some stark figures regarding the overall health of UK employees, as shown in the infographic.

Within our state education sector, the impact of this is evident in the astronomical, and increasing, amounts spent on supply teaching staff, to cover staff shortages and absences, each year. These costs make for uncomfortable reading for us all – £821 million spent across the sector (Source: BBC Analysis/Department for Education) – inefficient, damaging and burdensome for all of us.

Workloads, workloads, workloads?
Damian Hinds, Secretary of State for Education, recently remarked that there are “no great schools, without great teachers”, and there would be few who would disagree. He acknowledged that “too many of our teachers and our school leaders are working simply too long hours – and too often on tasks that the evidence shows are not helping children to learn”. (March 2018)

So, why do teachers leave the profession? Much is said of ‘workloads’, but this isn’t the only factor. Other associated issues such as: marking (and its variable impact); the number of data and assessment collection points; and the amount of restrictions and perceived accountabilities are frequently cited reasons too. Colleagues also want senior leaders to model excellent professional behaviour and to provide consistent professional support and challenge. They want the very best CPD to enhance their career and to have access to opportunities to progress within a school, academy or trust. It is of note that ‘pay’ is rarely cited as a main reason for leaving (although it is often a contributory factor).

What are we doing about it across the Diverse Academies?
Last month a large number of our most senior colleagues dedicated a full workshop day to the theme of ‘Feeling the love for our workforce’. Our purpose was to engage in a strategic discussion around how to ensure our academies are high performing AND places in which our colleagues feel healthy and happy in their daily work – across teaching, learning and operational areas.

A study of national and international data, our own trust data, case studies and vigorous debate led to a consensus about driving this priority forward during 2018/19. We will develop clear, simple and connected strategies which respond to the issues we know our colleagues deem important – addressing challenges such as the levels of administration, data gathering, work-life balance and employment flexibility.

A number of themes emerged – both specific and broad – which we’re tackling head on, such as:

  • reviewing NQT and RQT training, and ensuring undergraduates are better prepared for life in teaching
  • challenging perceptions around the use and benefits of marking guidelines – which are not imposed by the DfE or Ofsted
  • assessing our practices around mock exam paper marking and whether the use of external markers might be more effective
  • examining the impact and value of student reports for students and parents – and how tutor comments might enhance their personalisation 
  • assessing how technology can be a force for good, enabling better connectivity and freeing up time to focus on other priorities
  • better aligning our meetings calendars, ensuring that all have purpose and impact
  • driving further collaboration and the sharing of priorities in line with our collective vision
  • widening our methods of communication and improving the sign-posting of wellbeing schemes to all colleagues

The early engagement of prospective colleagues is also vital. We will ‘set out our stall’ clearly and succinctly, opening up our organisation in a way that makes us the ‘trust of choice’ in our region.

What next?
We’re continuing to listen to and engage with all our various staff groups. Our responses will be prioritised and targeted, detailing a programme of work and with clear timescales for implementation from September 2018 – as led by our HR Strategy Group.

We will re-visit the progress of the HR Strategy Group in the coming months and will share with staff in future newsletters. In the meantime, we would encourage everyone across our partnership to contribute to this vital debate. Please send your comments by email to Sarah Green This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Debbie Clinton, Acting CEO