The secrets of creating an effective staff survey

Asking for staff feedback is important, but if you get it wrong, it can do more harm than good. Here’s how to make your survey a success

Gemma Corby

How & When Should You Survey Your Staff?

It is well known that budget cuts in schools have led to increased workload pressure on teachers. A survey of more than 1,500 teachers, conducted by the Education Support Partnership in the summer of 2018, revealed that:

  • 76 per cent of educational professionals experience behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms owing to work, compared with 60 per cent of UK employees. 
  • 67 per cent of teachers are stressed at work.
  • 72 per cent cite workload as the main reason for considering leaving the job.

In order to retain a happy and healthy staff, many schools have taken to surveying their teachers and support staff to find out what the issues are and how big the problem is. So, how can school leaders ensure that this is a helpful process and not a hindrance?


According to Jim Adams, chief executive of Clarion Academy Trust in Norfolk, timing is something that needs to be carefully considered.

He says: “In my experience, at the start of term, you get more positive responses and, at the end of term, they’re more negative. To get an accurate response, I try to do them midway through the term.”

Ultra-busy times of year, such as just before the exams or when lots of reports are due, should be avoided.

Surveys should be carried out at least a couple of times a year, ideally including follow-up questions in order to encourage dialogue. Don’t forget to include a reasonable deadline to encourage a timely response.

 Avoiding the ‘delete’ button

Teachers receive several emails a day, so how can you avoid your survey being overlooked or consigned to the dustbin? Get buy-in from staff by explaining the importance of the survey in person.

You could use a staff meeting or suggestion box as the basis of the survey, so you know which issues are most pertinent to your staff. Consider making the survey anonymous so people feel able to be honest.

A true reflection

To avoid only hearing from the very happy and the very disgruntled, emphasise the importance of the survey as a communication tool between staff and senior leaders.

Consider creating a team of wellbeing ambassadors, including members of staff who are approachable, effective communicators and are willing to give some of their time to supporting others in the school.

Avoid adding to workload

Be upfront about the number of questions and the amount of time your survey will take, and include a mixture of closed and open questions.  

Adams advises that schools make sure the questions are “relevant, targeted and will allow you to have useful information”.

“I have, in the past, used follow-up questions,” he says. “You need to make sure staff get feedback and see the value. You also need to keep [the survey] succinct – nothing too wordy or requiring lengthy responses – unless they are optional.”

The importance of action

“This is vital,” Adams continues. “I always share the results and try to summarise the actions we will take following discussions at senior leadership team meetings. Disappearing into a void is not a good look.”

Time is precious, and no one is going to sacrifice it if they do not think they are getting anything out of it. There needs to be momentum behind the surveys, otherwise they will feel futile, and eventually fewer staff will engage with them.

The findings of the survey need to be shared with staff; this could be via email, but also it is important to address them head on in staff meetings and briefings. Reference needs to be made to what changes are going to result from the survey: changes in policy, staff meeting structures, approaches to reporting or marking, and so on. 

Any differences in opinion should also be discussed; for example, staff may want a particular action but the senior leadership team might have their reasons for not being able to do this. Get it out in the open and discuss it, as effective communication is key to staff wellbeing.

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