How our staff survey improved wellbeing

Nov. 15, 2017

Michelle Malakouna

Deputy Headteacher, Copthall School. Future Leaders Cohort 16

I’m not alone in feeling like I have a never-ending to do list.

I enjoy my work but that doesn’t stop it from feeling overwhelming. Sometimes I feel like I no longer have room to breathe, but the wellbeing steps we have taken in my school have made me realise that we’re not powerless to change our modern-world attitudes. I have found that there’s actually a lot we can do to improve wellbeing in teaching.

It’s more important now than ever because of the reputation of the profession. As a nation, we’re having trouble recruiting teachers, and as schools we are unable to retain our staff. Without the staff numbers we need, we can’t have the desired impact on the life chances of the pupils that need us the most. We need to be fit, happy and firing on all cylinders in order to make the biggest possible difference to the largest possible number of pupils, families and communities.

While we need to improve wellbeing to give a more positive image of the profession, our priority should be the mental health of those remaining in the profession. A 2016 NASUWT survey found that ten per cent of teachers have been prescribed antidepressant medication. So what can be done in schools? Here’s my school’s journey and the impact our changes had.

Conducting a staff survey

Last Autumn we became aware of a challenge around staff morale after concerns were expressed during a governor meeting. We chose to ‘lean-in’ to the problem and listen to our staff. We did a staff survey, a staff focus group to interpret the results and identify problems, and then had conversations within and across teams to devise solutions.

The staff wellbeing survey used questions from the NASUWT wellbeing survey, and we ran it in January and then again in September 2017. The second set of results showed improvements in 6 out of 8 headline areas:

  • A greater proportion are feeling supported at work (+14%)
  • A greater proportion (100%) have positive working relationships with colleagues (+4%)
  • A greater proportion feel that pupil behaviour is acceptable; none feel that this is seldom true or not true (+20%)
  • A greater proportion know what is expected of them at work (+12%)
  • A greater proportion feel involved when changes are being considered (+6%)
  • A smaller proportion are feeling constant stress (-13%)
  • In addition: there was a slight reduction in those experiencing work-related stress (-3%)

In our evaluation of our personalised CPD programme, 65% said that they feel that they are making very rapid improvements in their teaching.

Adjusting our policies

At a wellbeing session run by Ambition School Leadership I learnt that the NHS describes 5 constituent elements of wellbeing: connect, grow, learn, move, mindful.

Going back to school, I recommended that we address staff workload by reviewing our Assessment and Feedback policy. I used the EEF finding that there is no conclusive evidence of the value of written feedback to promote pupil progress to back me up.

We then reviewed our performance appraisal observations and introduced half hour observations for teachers to allow them to reflect and set themselves goals. We asked these questions like, ‘how do you feel the lesson went?’, ‘what would you like to develop next?’ and ‘how did the feedback feel?’

We also reviewed our Rewards and Sanctions (Behaviour) Policy, to make sure that it supported teachers to be able to do their job unimpeded in the classroom, and introduced centralised detentions run on a rota to further reduce workload. Our review included building in the use of Epraise to reward behaviours in line with our school values (Respect, Equality for All, Support and Safety, Aspiration and Responsibility).



We had a bumper set of exam results, beating national averages in all but a few areas, with Progress 8 scores of 0.75 for all students, and 0.47 for disadvantaged students. This suggests that our happier teachers had more positive impact on our students’ outcomes.

Anecdotally, teachers have said things like: “In previous years I felt quite isolated because there were only about five other people who I could have a conversation with about teaching and learning; it didn’t seem like anyone else was interested. Now it’s much better - it happens so much more of the time.” And “it feels much less like ‘us’ and ‘them’ now; it really does feel like we’re in one big leadership team working together.”

Implementing these processes to improve wellbeing has taught me that demonstrating that you’re acting on staff wellbeing is so much more powerful than talking about it.

We constantly talk about the challenging recruitment context, the significant levels of political uncertainty and the increase in mental health issues. What we need to talk about more is how to make the change: by working to reduce workload and improve support and development; by listening and creating a tailored response and by creating opportunities for effective professional learning with lots of collaboration and time to connect.

If we spread these messages with our networks more, we can help our valued teachers to feel healthier, happier and more comfortable at work and at home. And if we do it, we will enjoy our work more, and do it better as a result.

This article originally appeared on the website of the Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019 the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

Improving wellbeing is one of the skills taught on on our Future Leaders programme. Follow this link to the webpage or fill out an enquiry form to find out more about our programmes.

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