Recruitment, retention and wellbeing

In his regular wellbeing column for Education Today this month Mark Solomons, CEO of School Wellbeing Accelerator – an acclaimed wellbeing expert with over 12 years’ experience developing leadership and culture in UK schools and creator of Welbee, a highly effective online evaluation and staff wellbeing improvement tool, finalist in the ERA 2022 Awards, Wellbeing and Safeguarding category – discusses staff recruitment and retention.

Building staff wellbeing into the foundations of your school culture has an incredible impact that goes beyond ensuring good mental health. Happy and healthy staff have a direct effect on the mental wellbeing and attainment of students. It is also an important ingredient in the recipe for recruiting and retaining staff. Anyone who feels supported and an integral part of an organisation invests more of themselves.

Many businesses recognise the importance of a well-articulated ‘people strategy’ to drive the engagement and productivity of employees. It’s essential to help a business grow. The strategy considers the talent they have, the talent they need and how to develop and retain ‘highpotential’ employees.

The same can be said for schools. If staff needs are met and there is a balance between expectation and workload, alongside a supportive and progressive culture, overall wellbeing and job satisfaction is high – which has an impact on results and substantially lowers staff costs.

Here are some considerations for developing a people strategy across your school’s ‘staff lifecycle’

1. Staff attraction
Generate interest in your school or MAT. Share why it is a great place to work and shout about the culture. This is more than positive stories in the local press, it means identifying routes to reach ideal candidates and giving them reasons to engage with you – even if currently you have no vacancies – for example, opening up CPD opportunities to staff from other schools. Remember the best ambassadors you have are those already working with you and the stories they tell.

2. Recruitment
With a dwindling supply of teachers, you are recruiting in a highly competitive market. Job interviews and selection days are part of a process – alongside the usual job description, person specification, application form and job advert. How does yours stand out from others? Focus on attitude and cultural fit, and not just skills and experience. Generate some goodwill by offering feedback to candidates – even if your time is tight. There are simple ways to share brief feedback, for example a quick video – you have to review the applications anyway! This will set you apart from others as candidates share their experience.

3. Onboarding school staff
Onboarding, not induction, starts when staff are appointed and provides ongoing support and challenge. You may be desperate to get them in the classroom on day one, but week one should include so much more – meetings with senior leaders, lunches with other staff and quality time with their line manager. New recruits need a personal plan that covers the coming months – regular 1:1s; coaching; feedback; training; two-way reviews; a career development conversation and more.

4. Performance
Managing staff members’ performance delivers strong results and supports staff wellbeing. If poor performance or behaviour is not tackled early, it can lead to conscious or unconscious resentment and dips in the performance of others. Line managers often perceive dealing with staff issues as ‘difficult’, rather than part of a transparent process, which must also include praise. Plan ahead, collect relevant evidence, ask questions and listen openly, and agree achievable goals with scheduled follow up meetings. As a supportive process it becomes a positive part of school culture.

5. Development
When planning CPD try to find links between staff members’ interests and your development plan. Staff will be intrinsically motivated and appreciate your consideration – the CPD will have a personal connection to their individual needs, rather than it all being ‘must do’. Successful CPD cannot simply be short twilight sessions, 15-minute briefings, inset days and workshop merry-go-rounds. It should include career conversations, and agreed long and shortterm plans.

6. Staff retention
Developing a people strategy and supporting staff through each stage, strongly influences your chances of retaining them. Plan ahead, identify and manage talented staff early, know what roles are at risk and have candidates ready and able to step into them. Keep in mind not everyone aspires to school leadership. Create alternative career paths – strong classroom performers need rewards, without having to progress along a leadership path. Larger MATs can tackle this with cluster, regional and national roles and Trust contracts. Be creative and embrace flexible working, and have clear plans to retain those going on maternity leave. ‘Stay interviews’ are also important – schedule regular conversations with staff about actions that will help to retain them.

7. Farewell
Inevitably some staff move on and how they leave is important. Teachers may be seeking promotion when there is no opportunity for them, or others are ahead in the ‘queue’. Even if you would prefer them to stay, proactively support them to find the role they want, even when this is external. It may be disappointing to lose them, however they will be spreading the word about the fantastic school they came from and building your reputation as an employer. Others may not be meeting expectations despite the support given, or perhaps teaching really isn’t for them. Help them to depart in a prompt and professional way and enhance your reputation when they tell others of their treatment. Exit interviews will collect further feedback, though doing this before they leave (stay interviews) should be a higher priority.

Putting together your people strategy
School leaders are time-poor, and many schools are financially constrained. Delivering an effective and long-term people strategy takes focus and hard work. However, if recruiting staff from a diminishing labour market and retaining them is important, then there is little choice. Make your school a great place to work, build a culture where staff are supported and appreciated and where wellbeing is something that simply happens every day.

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