When I became the head at my current primary, it was a really difficult time for the school. It had been rated "requires improvement" by Ofsted, reading progress was in the bottom 10 per cent, and it needed a complete restructure of staff. The leadership team and I had to make some difficult choices fast.
It’s obvious that with change comes immense pressure on staff, and from the start it was clear that we needed to introduce a clear focus on wellbeing. This was when the Wellbeing Team was born. Made up of staff from across the school: teaching assistants, teachers, cover supervisors, and then myself from the leadership team, we sought to ensure the wellbeing of all staff members was high.
In the first few meetings, some hard home truths were spoken. Each member of the team had the chance to be honest about how they and their colleagues felt. It was clear that the changes introduced (and that were still being introduced) had caused staff worry and stress. In some cases, staff weren't even sure why things had been introduced. It was important that the senior leadership and I were part of the solution. We modelled growth mindset and resilience, and didn’t become defensive about things said.
We then created a staff wellbeing survey, asking questions like: how many hours do you work? Do you feel supported? How stressed do you feel? A variety of issues came to the fore, for example, workload, photocopying difficulties and inconsistent support. The survey was discussed both by the wellbeing team and SLT, and a variety of solutions were put into place.
The nature of school leadership means we monitor, observe, judge, scrutinise and ask for evidence. This is normally done through planning, marking and data. But I believe schools thrive when they focus on learning. It’s important to have good conditions for growth, a strong growth mindset, offer CPD to everyone, and ensure that collaboration is at the heart of everything. A happy staff is the most productive.
Relationships and establishing a culture of shared responsibility is key to support staff wellbeing. I spoke with the SLT about having an open door policy so that staff felt they could come and speak about any issues.
We have worked really hard on creating a positive, open and honest culture in the school, in which all staff show appreciation and offer support – this is now a great strength of the school.
Communication is so important and we wanted to make each meeting count, and any information to be shared in a succinct and clear way. So we invested in iPad minis for all staff and have an effective email system. All meetings have agendas and some are conducted with everyone standing, which we have found to be very productive.
Fun ideas came from the wellbeing team: they talked about things they’d either heard from friends and colleagues, or discovered online. We “mugged” people – leaving mugs filled with sweets or stationery for a particular member of staff to brighten up their day – left positive post-it notes, and created a shout out board. All staff were encouraged to do these things for each other. Things have moved on and nowadays we get suggestions from staff for initiatives they would like to see: fitness classes after school, a school Bake Off, yoga classes, a quiet mindfulness room.
Stress is part of modern day life, and it pops up in all areas of our lives. It’s so crucial that schools train staff to recognise stress and how to cope with it. A healthy amount of stress in our lives can be a huge motivator. Stress can’t simply be eliminated, and staff must be aware of this.
At the beginning, all staff said that their work-life balance was a problem. To counteract this, a member of the SLT would go into the year group PPA sessions and offer advice and support.
We also introduced a PPA session for teaching assistants so that if they led a group, they would have time to prepare resources. We also introduced a no marking policy across the whole school for English and maths. And then six months later, we introduced the same for all foundation subjects.
We introduced a new style of staff training – two meetings were offered per week and staff could pick which they felt best met their needs. All staff in the school had an hour's training each week as part of their contracts.
The wellbeing team is now nearly four years old and its impact has been amazing – results have improved year on year, workload has reduced and staff are much happier and proud to work at the school.
Dani Lang is the headteacher at Brimsdown Primary School