Massage presses the right buttons for retaining staff

1st April 2005 at 01:00
Your target for this term is either to get home by 5.30pm, go to the gym more often or fit that new kitchen you keep talking about.

It may seem like a dream for overworked staff, but it is a reality at one school, which is trying to raise standards of learning by taking the strain from teachers.

St John the Baptist Catholic comprehensive in Woking, Surrey, also offers staff a dry cleaning service, organic fruit and vegetable deliveries, on-site vehicle MoTs and servicing, as well as monthly visits by a masseuse.

These services are just part of an attempt to allow teachers to concentrate solely on improving their pupils' learning.

Ani Magill, headteacher, said: "It's not possible for a teacher to do all the things that are expected of them and to teach well. There are not enough hours in the week.

"We ditched absolutely everything that doesn't have an effect in the classroom. About 99 per cent of the post goes in the bin."

To underline their commitment to giving teachers time to teach, staff are told to include one work-life balance target in their performance targets.

Miss Magill joked with one teacher that he would not be allowed to progress up the leadership scale because he had been shirking his gym duties.

Another told his wife to call the school and complain if he works late too often. Marking is also kept to a minimum.

"They teach better if they go to the pub in the evening than if they stay up until 1am marking," Miss Magill said.

Classroom assistants are also able to take on the form tutors' role, responsible for pastoral cares. Miss Magill credits the changes with an improvement in results: the percentage of students with five or more A* to C grades at GCSE rose from 63 per cent five years ago to 86 per cent last year.

All this comes at a price, although Miss Magill insists it is not a financial one and suggests she may have saved money by reducing absence.

"Last year we spent just pound;2,000 on cover supervisors or supply teachers. Some schools spend pound;100,000," she said.

Instead, she demands high standards in the classroom from teachers and says she would not hesitate to sack staff if their performance was not good enough.

"If headteachers don't go down the capability route, I don't think they are doing their job," Miss Magill said.

An Office for Standards in Education report in 2003 said that the school had high staff turnover, although most leave for promotion. Teachers admit they know of some who have agreed to leave because their performance was not judged to be good enough.

But they also say most of them are committed to working for an innovative, high-achieving school.

The Teacher Support Network, a national charity offering practical and emotional support, welcomed the initiative.

Patrick Nash, chief executive, said: "Making the health and well-being of teachers a priority makes a real difference to staff performance and retention."

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