In Sept 2017, Rowdeford School in Wiltshire had a high turnover of teaching staff.
But in the past two years, the school, which caters for children with communication and interaction difficulties, has seen just one of its 26 teaching staff depart, and only three of its 49 teaching assistants. All of these departures have been for promotion or retirement.
So, what’s their secret? Here, deputy head Terri Chard explains the six factors that have helped her retain her staff.
Giving our staff freedom to teach is hugely important to their wellbeing. We trust our staff to make their own judgements about the needs of the children and we ask that subject knowledge and lesson content becomes a secondary factor.
If a child needs to go outside to work, the teacher or TA does not need to ask permission. If the teacher needs to abort the English lesson to focus on friendship concerns, that is what should be done in the best interests of the student.
We feel strongly that TA input is just as valuable as teachers’, and the TAs have the same rights and autonomy to make decisions. We value all our staff and you will often find a TA delivering at the front of the class and the teacher working one to one with a child.
We ensure that all voices are equally valuable. The headteacher has a truly open-door policy and all staff have regular meeting, which allows them to share good practice and feed back to the senior leadership team.
We complete a staff survey each year and, for the few staff who do leave us, an exit questionnaire is completed.
Once a year, all staff are asked their opinion on the way they want to be deployed the following year. This could mean for teachers a change of class or even subjects.
Our TAs also complete a skills audit to ensure we know what they can do and what they would like to get involved with the following year. After the timetable is written, all staff are consulted and changes are accommodated wherever possible.
We believe that all our staff are ”conscious competent” in terms of teaching and we have dedicated time for them to set up a coaching programme.
We give staff the autonomy to choose their own focus for improvement and choose two colleagues they would like to buddy up with to improve this area.
Staff use their non-contact time to set up peer observations and coaching conversations, and they are repaid with some after-school meeting time. There is no monitoring that this is happening as we trust staff to want to improve their own performance.
We also invite TAs and higher level TAs to attend relevant teachers’ meetings and training. We put money aside in the budget to allow us to pay overtime for their attendance. We get excellent uptake to this scheme, with regular inset days seeing more than 80 per cent of optional attendees attending.
We have regular fortnightly training for all TAs and, to allow for this, they leave 20 minutes early on a Friday. This then means that they can stay once a fortnight for a 40-minute meeting.
Although we have adopted the local authority leave of absence policy, we always apply this in a bespoke way and use compassion in our judgements. We know that our staff go the extra mile for us and we try to repay them by being flexible.
We have an inset day in November, when we close the school and give all staff a Christmas shopping day. The teachers “earn” this day for the whole school; we use the additional time for subject lead meetings.
When we recruit new staff, we always ensure that they understand that all behaviour is communication. We only appoint staff to work at Rowdeford school who don’t think that children choose their behaviour.
We want our staff to ask “What is that child trying to tell me when they behave in this way?”. Then staff start to work with children to remove barriers and not think of them as simply “naughty”.
The school has 22 acres of outdoor facilities, which we use as outside learning environments. We know that working outside impacts students’ mental health and this can also be said for the teachers. Being outside in a wonderful environment is uplifting and means that staff want to stay.
Community is vitally important to us. We ask staff to buy into that community. We run a lot of events that are linked to the school, and staff regularly give up their weekends and weeknights to support the school. This may be in the animal feeding rota, the summer fete or the garden fair.
Terri Chard is the deputy headteacher at Rowdeford School near Devises, Wiltshire