Life laundry

11th May 2007 at 01:00
From car valeting and ironing to massage and yoga, Jan Trebilcock discovers the schools that will do anything for that staff feelgood factor

Piles of dirty laundry and unwashed dishes are the last thing you want to face after a hard day at work, but those boring household chores have to be fitted into your busy schedule somehow.

Getting your work-life balance on an even keel and making sure you get quality time to chill is not always easy, but some schools are pulling out all the stops to help their teachers do just that.

Fiona Allen, head of Corsham Primary in Wiltshire, has been something of a trailblazer at improving teachers' wellbeing.

Every Monday morning, her staff can take their laundry in to school and pick it up on Tuesday, neatly pressed, clean and crisp on hangers.

She spends pound;15 to pound;20 a week on ironing. "That's mainly shirts belonging to my three sons and husband, plus maybe a couple of my own things - and it's worth every penny."

While teachers are hard at work in the classroom, a car valeting service makes sure they have a clean and shiny vehicle to drive home in. And if the going gets tough in class, teachers can book in for a massage after school or go to a yoga class - all without leaving the premises.

The school organises the services and has negotiated special rates for its teachers.

"Staff wellbeing and work-life balance are important and we address them at all levels, from the strategic and policy level to the touchy-feely things such as massage and yoga classes," says Fiona.

"We started eight or nine years ago when there was a recruitment crisis and we have been developing it ever since. We have an Investors in People Work-Life Balance award. The staff here have a voice, they are listened to and we have a happy school."

The school's recruitment and retention policy gives teachers the chance to take a year out. "It gives them choices," says Fiona. "Corsham offered teachers time for planning, preparation and marking before it was officially introduced nationally and has four teacher personal assistants working 20-25 hours a week helping out with things such as bulk photocopying, writing letters and organising trips."

Every teacher is signed up to the employees assistance programme from the Worklife Support charity, which means they can get financial advice and 24-hour telephone counselling if they feel the need. The school offers every member of staff a flu injection and has organised special rates for health checks, fitness club membership, and health insurance from Benenden Healthcare.

"We organise lots of social events that staff can come to as well," says Fiona. "Later this week we are having a Spanish evening at a local restaurant. There's no pressure to attend, but we do have some fun. The Chinese karaoke evening where you could eat as much food as you like was a success."

The feelgood factor is also important at Moat Farm Junior School, Sandwell, in the West Midlands.

"We have arranged everything from a laundry and ironing service, to car valeting and half-termly visits from a chiropodist for teachers" says Chris Garrett, deputy head. "We used to offer Indian head massage, but it was counter-productive first thing in the morning because it was just too relaxing."

Car washing and valeting services come at bargain rates and a local car mechanic sorts out services and MOTs, picking up cars from school and returning them at the end of the day. A sandwich shop makes daily deliveries, a seamstress is on hand for alterations and the school has put together a folder named As Good as it Gets, which lists local services recommended by teachers, from plumbers and carpenters to restaurants. Fresh fruit and newspapers are provided daily in the staffroom and teachers are allowed to go home and work during their PPA time.

"Our two wellbeing co-ordinators have just done a survey asking people what they want, so we're organising salsa and aerobics classes," says Chris.

"These little things all improve staff's quality of life and make them feel valued."

Levels of staff wellbeing are soaring at Wylam First School in the Tyne Valley, thanks to the newly formed 12-strong staff choir. It all started when The Sage music and arts centre in Gateshead approached the school offering singing sessions to pupils as part of its Vocal Union outreach project. But the staff had to have sessions too.

"The idea went down like a lead balloon at first," says Lynn Johnston, headteacher. "It was way out of everybody's comfort zone. But it's been great fun, bringing all the staff closer - laughing and relaxing together in a space that's outside our role in education."

Teachers are often found singing in the school corridors these days, she says, and they have even performed at a local church and at The Sage centre.

The emotional wellbeing of teachers and pupils also comes high on the list of priorities for Marilyn Docherty, head at Seaton Terrace Nursery School in Northumberland. "To look after children well, we have to look after ourselves," she says.

A Bach Flower Remedy practitioner visits regularly to attend to the needs of children and teachers. Remedies help teachers with anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed, says Marilyn. For the children, they can be used for everything from new baby syndrome to anger and tantrums.

"If parents have a concern that has not been resolved by a doctor or health visitor, they can have a chat with the practitioner about whether Bach Flower remedies may help and decide if they want to give it a try," says Marilyn.

She is convinced the sessions, at pound;30 a go, have been effective.

"We've had an amazing response using them," she says.

Marilyn has trained in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and hypnotherapy so she can offer her services free of charge to staff at her school and nine partner schools. "The aim is to help people find their own solutions to their stress and self-limiting beliefs," she says. "NLP is a quick way of resolving a person's anxieties."

She leads group relaxation sessions in the school's healing room. And a Buddhist monk from the Compassion Centre in Newcastle is visiting to teach meditation.

"Teachers are under immense pressure, so helping them learn to relax is crucial," Marilyn says

To find out more, visit:

Worklife Support:

Teachers Support Network:

Healthy Schools Programme:


Car valet inside and out pound;16

Yoga class, per term pound;42

Indian head massage pound;12.50

Health check pound;42

Laundry pound;1.75lb

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