Mary-Jo Hill

02 Nov 2021
There is still an undisclosed challenge for a key strata of staff in schools. Read this post to find out more.

After the necessary reset and recharge of batteries during the half term break, we have a good 6 weeks of meaningful progress to be had before the pull of the festive celebrations run us into Christmas. Let’s hope your school starts this half term with a full complement of staff and pupils and a clear vision of what is reasonable to achieve with the children in this time. This half term will make a real difference to the learning of your pupils.

How has your staff culture changed?

One of the greatest challenges is still how to re-boot the staff team spirit. This is the culture of your school. An unexpected outcome of the pandemic is that goodwill as a currency is not as fluid or as bountiful as it once was. With the necessary coping strategy of looking after number one, some staff in pre-Covid days would have pulled together and gone the extra mile. Those that have taken stock and looked hard at priorities or felt the impact of illness and stress directly or indirectly, are pulling back from some of the necessary extra bits that glue the school together. So what happens as a result of this? Well, there are those members of staff that will always say yes, the ones that can always be relied upon. The only problem is that it means that the workload divide becomes greater. How does the school imbibe the necessary gathering of staff in the flesh to re-connect and share the collective vision?  Really hard. Working with colleagues that are not as invested as you can be at best irritating, and at worst preventative, in living that vision. A school is based upon collective values and vision. The relentless drive to manifest this, is the everyday work of leaders across the country.

How to demonstrate values with staff

For most headteachers, modelling good practise in work/life balance is the key. It gives tacit permission to those who over-work to take time for a personal life. The closure of school at a reasonable time is vital. Demonstrating ways in which to reduce workload in a tangible fashion is key and of course the stuff of many a WellBeing policy and working group in school. However there is an oft undisclosed but real challenge here that still remains.

The undisclosed but real challenge

This may be contentious for some, but the outcome of a capitalist society is that goods and services will just keep getting cheaper. And with cheaper, we often mean less accomplished. The pull on resources of the Early Career Teachers is big. Those that are on the UPS3 are now having to do more work to maintain that position. This is an uncomfortable truth that keeps the governors of the finance committee awake at night. The experience and talent that they have is gold. How can you maintain this and expect more for your money when this goes against the human instinct to want more remuneration as you mature? The reality is that those on UPS3 can become a financial burden. So how do you reconcile this excellent resource against the instinct of many to go for a cheaper and more ‘mouldable’ model. This is an enormous challenge for schools, particularly those of a rural nature- where and when it is really about the community and how you care and nurture it. So, I have an excellent school to showcase which is rare for me to highlight one out of the many great schools that I work with, but those leaders and staff and pupils at Aylsham High School, Norfolk, get what it takes to be a community and to demonstrate their value to all staff.

Ageism in the workplace

It is happening right now and although we might be aghast at the provision of social care for the elderly, how we support all of our mature, experienced and stellar gold staff is critical. Learning communities, offering and investing in quality CPD such as a Master’s degree or the recent and heavily advertised ‘free NPQs’ for staff are out there but are they really what is wanted? Investing in the belief that they have a lot to give, and are still valued, is key. So I suggest, as of course, I would, that we dig deep on providing quality, expert and independent coaching for those teachers on UPS3. And the reason for this is that from early feedback on the Early Careers Teacher programme, there is a real need for them in school to help ‘mould’ the cheaper staff. Therefore we need to actively invest in them too .. More to follow on ECF and NPQ roll out next blog post. A reminder of this is highlighted in this guest blog here.

Any thoughts and experience to date on the Early Careers Framework and the barriers to the NPQs, is welcomed.