How good school communication starts with a simple survey

For this headteacher, good communication is ‘essential’ for school improvement. He explains how it can all start with a simple survey

Grainne Hallahan

Coronavirus: How to communicate with staff and students

Patrick Sprakes, headteacher of Malet Lambert school in Hull, has started his day 10 minutes earlier than usual. He isn’t behind on his reports or getting in to go through emails: he is meeting with a staff member as part of his open-door policy.

The policy is one part of a much bigger communications system that Sprakes operates at Malet Lambert.

When he took up the post, Sprakes knew he didn’t want to be stuck in his office, bound up in paperwork, hearing about problems at second or third hand.

“You’ve got to communicate with staff because when you’re talking about school improvement, that’s essential,” he says.

At Malet Lambert, face-to-face communication doesn’t happen by accident; it is woven into every aspect of school life. The home-school relationship is facilitated by an open-door policy for parents to book in with the senior leadership team; members of the community are invited in for regular meetings; and a middle leaders’ group eases planning across faculties.

Start with a survey

However, this system wasn’t implemented overnight. Sprakes used a staff survey to get a good overview of where problems might be, and where the first changes needed to be made.

“We used an external tool and made it completely anonymous, so that staff felt they could be totally honest,” Sprakes explains.

“From that survey, we then formed voluntary staff groups, and then the staff group members worked with me to feed back on further changes that were made.”

So how can you make a staff survey as successful as possible?

Be all-inclusive

For Sprakes, it is as much about who you ask as what you ask.

At Malet Lambert, every member of staff completed the survey, from admin and support staff to the senior leadership team, as well as every teacher, trainee teacher and peripatetic teacher employed by the school.

“We opened up the survey to literally every member of staff, and then our chief executive used this information in addition to a union consultation to create a charter that our trust, The Education Alliance, uses across its four schools. This means that the contents of that charter have been informed by the very teachers for which it serves,” says Sprakes. 

Get into the finer detail

The survey was also useful for Sprakes to look at where staff needed more support.

“Our survey was broken down into department areas because we needed to know how people’s feelings about the school changed across the different subjects,” he says.

“We then used our usual line-management meetings and face-to-face communication with staff to find resolutions for problems. One of the things we looked for initially were easy wins, so looking at the staffing for different classes, and matching the class profile to the most suitable teaching staff.”

From the survey, Sprakes found his staff members were very keen on having more department time, and the opportunity to discuss curriculum and planning matters as a team. This is something he now provides.

“We’ve made sure that there is more time for staff to be together in their faculties and more opportunities for them to use department time to collaborate,” he says.

Deal with the negative

Receiving negative feedback is part and parcel of honest communication. According to Sprakes, this is something that should be facilitated.

“If things aren’t going well in a department, for whatever reason, in my experience, going in with a heavy-handed approach doesn’t do any good,” he explains.

Instead, he advises giving staff the chance to voice their concerns freely within a culture of trust and collaboration that will allow these concerns to be addressed.

“We put staff at ease and let them know that this is about working as a team to move forward,” Sprakes says.

See the improvements

Sprakes has been in post now since February 2016 and sees these changes as part of a bigger plan. His priority is sustained improvement and he is constantly looking at how the school can develop further.

He believes the school’s new approach to communication has allowed staff to develop a greater understanding of pupils’ needs, something that was also praised in Malet Lambert’s recent Ofsted report, which states that Sprakes has “a very detailed understanding of the strengths of the school and clear action plans are in place to address areas for improvement.”

And this “understanding” all stems from an approach to communication which placed a simple staff survey at its heart.

Understand and act on issues that are affecting your teachers with Staff Pulse. This new survey tool from Tes can help obtain feedback and aid retention. Find out more about Staff Pulse.

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