As a father, whenever I join a school, I ask myself: is this school good for my own children? Would I send them here? If the answer to these questions is ‘no’, then I need to ask - why not? What can be done? After all, the children must be at the centre. They are our clients. They are today's learners and tomorrow's leaders.
During the three years at my previous school, where I joined as a deputy and then became the acting head, recruiting and retaining the right staff was an integral part of my work. Ultimately, it was fundamental in the shift from the school's Self Evaluation Form (SEF) score of Requires Improvement (RI) to OFSTED's judgement in March 2017 of GOOD.
When I joined what I thought was a GOOD school in September 2015, it was very clear that the school was no longer deserving of that grade. From numerous learning walks and lesson observations, I quickly realised that the teaching and learning of the school were mostly RI. In fact, some lessons were even worse — over 90% of the lessons the new Senior Leadership Team (SLT) observed were deemed RI or Inadequate. The school wasn't even teaching to the new curriculum — it was two years behind!
As an SLT, we were not harsh. Yes, we were new, but we did not have any agenda to get rid of existing staff, either teachers or TAs. We knew that our job was to nurture staff, to support them and to provide them with training. We wanted to empower them to become the best they could be so that they could buy into the school's strap-line: “Today's Learners; Tomorrow's Leaders”.
In order to do this, a skill set audit had to be done. Running appraisals for all staff was crucial. It turns out that the school had paid over £60K to an external agency to provide PE, Music and MFL in order to release staff for their PPA. However, the appraisals showed that some of the TAs had a number of skills to offer that were not being utilised. Some had Level 3 Sport Diploma, and some could speak other languages fluently. So they began to cover PPA. Paying attention to your staff in this way is rewarding in every sense: it can save the school money, raise individual staff morale, and help you retain the staff that the school needs.
Nurture staff, support them… empower them to become the best they can be.
Teachers that were RI (or had RI lessons or worse) received training in a non-patronising way. For instance, staff were sent to neighbouring outstanding schools and 'buddied up'. This allowed the new SLT to network with other schools but also provide training both internally and externally to staff that needed support and new ideas. SLT also modelled lessons so that we were teaching by example.
Sadly, some staff members did end up leaving. One cannot retain everyone, but one must realise that it is by no means personal. If staff fail to meet the Teacher Standards or fail to take on board the support provided, then the school must only do what is right for the children. It is key that from regular briefings and staff meetings, staff know that we are all here for the children.
When some staff did leave, it was vital to then recruit the right candidates for the job. This meant screening their applications forms, seeking strong references and seeing the candidates in action. With safer recruitment training, this meant both observing and interviewing them. This enabled us to assess their understanding of safeguarding issues and helped us ensure that they were more than prepared for the role.
With the right staff, the right morale, the right training and the right growth mindset, the school very quickly transformed from an RI school into a GOOD school, as confirmed by the borough and a former HMI SIP (School Improvement Partners). Whilst the children greatly benefited from the improvements made, the positive effects didn’t stop there. We worked closely with the PTA and community. Staff wanted to come to the summer fayres on a Saturday. Staff wanted to run after-school clubs. Staff enjoyed having breakfast provided for them on certain days. Staff enjoyed dressing up as book characters. Staff enjoyed hanging out at the end of term for drinks. The school became a very enjoyable place to work, and I miss it greatly.