Issue 131 - 2024 Summer term
Good leaders care if their staff have good morale says Teacher Tapp’s Grainne Hallahan. Here, she shares the latest research and top tips on how to ensure your team is well looked after.

Taking care of your team

Grainne Hallahan
Head of Community at Teacher Tapp
 The claim that “leaders know they are doing something right if staff are unhappy” made by Sir Michael Wilshaw is long out of date – in fact, it’s fair to say that in 2012, when he made the comment, those types of management approaches were ready for the history books.
 
Good leaders care if their staff have good morale, and it’s not hard to see why – after all, there is plenty of evidence that shows happy workforces are more likely to be more productive and less likely to leave. 
 
Latest DfE data tells us that 44,000 teachers left the classroom in 2022. This represents one in ten of all qualified teachers and it is the highest rate since 2018. 
 
It’s fair to say that wanting to keep teachers in the classroom is certainly not an inconsequential motivator when it comes to leaders wanting to improve their staff morale.
 
This is something we know a lot about at Teacher Tapp. We asked teachers to rate their contentedness at work from one to seven (one being the lowest) and then cross-referenced this with teachers who had also told us that they were currently looking to leave the school.
 
We found that more than two-thirds of teachers who said they were planning on staying put in their school had ranked their level of content a five, six or seven.
 
Another useful metric is asking about relationships with line managers. We asked teachers if they felt their line manager “helps them to do their job better”.
 
When we cross these results with our question about job hunting, we can see that of those saying they’re leaving because they’re unhappy with their school, 42% had also said they disagreed that their line manager was helping them to do their job better.
 
So, clearly staff wellbeing is a useful tool when it comes to keeping good staff but, more importantly, teaching is different from other professions in its intensity and nature: you have an adult in a room with young children for almost seven hours a day. We definitely want that adult to feel happy.
 
How to measure wellbeing
If we know leaders need to know how happy their staff are if they want to keep them, then how do you do that? What questions do you ask?
 
The example above where we periodically ask teachers to self-assess how content they are is useful because it gives you lots of data over a long period of time. You can find out what the baseline is, and then get an accurate idea of how well things are being received or not.
 
There are other useful indicators of why staff wellbeing is low: long-term absence, staff turnover rate, number and frequency of staff complaints.
 
However, these examples tell you that you have a problem that has already set in. What’s more useful is spotting the trend before the resignation emails hit your inbox.
 
That’s why tracking small changes over time allows you to spot small problems before they become bigger. It’s the same as classroom management – ignore the small behaviour transgressions and, before you know it, you have a whole class out of their chairs. Asking your staff small questions about their happiness should give you warning signs that something bigger is going on before it happens.
 
Identification is only part of the problem 
This is the point of friction: where you know your staff are unhappy but have no solution to remedy their unhappiness.
 
Yes, you’ve identified a problem. You may even be able to pinpoint the source of that problem. But how do you fix it?
 
Improving staff morale requires slow change. Overnight fixes either don’t exist, or only treat things in a superficial way.
 
It’s very possible that staff morale is low due to structural issues within the school or college. For example, where there has been poor implementation of a behaviour policy resulting in high workload. Even if that policy is replaced, the residual fallout takes time to recover. 
 
Similarly, if you deal with a bullying member of staff, even if that member of staff leaves the school, the impact of their behaviour could still be felt long after their departure.
 
There is only one solution to this problem – communication. Share your plans with your staff and make them feel like they’re onboard that journey to improvement with you. People are realistic, and much more willing to cooperate if they feel like they are part of that journey.
 
Challenges of addressing issues
These aren’t the only problems you face as leaders trying to grapple with staff morale. Schools and colleges are closely tied to their communities and anything that happens in the local area is likely to in turn impact your establishment. 
 
Leaders can do nothing if a local employer makes mass redundancies, or poor town planning means everyone has a commute that starts taking twice as long – but both events can have an impact on wellbeing.
 
Just because you shoulder that weight, it doesn’t mean it’s your job to solve these problems too. As school and college leaders you can only work with what you have the power to change, so, although it’s crucial to look at the context when understanding staff morale, that doesn’t mean it’s up to you to solve. 
 
Every school or college will have operational changes that they can make that can improve teacher wellbeing – it’s just a matter of locating those levers, and then pulling them.
 
Some takeaway points to consider
  • When we asked teachers what would improve their wellbeing, the most common answer was a request to reduce administration requirements (something that the recent change to the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) also tries to address).
  • Teachers also told us they want improved communication; a review of what channels of communication are used with staff and parents is always worthwhile.
Addressing student behaviour is also a way staff feel wellbeing can improve. Our surveys show that teachers in schools where behaviour is more of a challenge are more likely to say they want to leave their school – and teaching.

Featured Articles