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A healthy dose of feedback: How I built a staff survey to improve wellbeing in my school

Written By: Mike Lamb
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5 min read
The survey needed to be carefully planned, executed and fed back to staff.

Just 74% of teachers who qualified in 2013 were still in the profession three years later, according to analysis of government data. While attracting, developing and retaining great teachers is a national issue, in the 2017-18 academic year, we made it a key focus for our school and appointed a Director of Staff and Pupil Wellbeing.

The school – a medium-sized, independent, co-educational school that supports children from three to 18 years old in the South East of England –  has a successful record of pastoral care for pupils. Some of our team felt, however, that support for staff should be more of a priority and anecdotal evidence suggested that some of the team felt undervalued.

Due to a previous lack of staff voice, we decided to carry out a questionnaire to identify the key concerns and issues for staff. The project was simple: we wanted to gather data on staff wellbeing issues and use this to develop a wellbeing programme that would meet their needs.

My approach

Although a staff survey offered a perfect starting point, it needed to be carefully planned, executed and fed back to staff, or the process itself could negatively affect wellbeing.

Our early research looked into past examples of teacher surveys produced by the various teaching unions (NASUWT and NUT, now the NEU) and advice from the Education Support Partnership. We also looked more widely into employee workplace surveys (this feature from Survey Monkey was especially helpful) and it became clear that we couldn’t use a generic template –  our questionnaire must be bespoke and tailored our institution.

We presented the findings at an all-staff INSET session and uploaded them on the school intranet so we could be totally open with staff about their views.

The approach in practice

We clearly laid out our rationale and the purpose of the exercise to staff at the very beginning. It was important that they knew we were serious about getting their input about wellbeing and that we wanted to use this information to improve their experience, and to improve the effectiveness of the school in general. So we discussed the project widely at staff briefings, via email and using a small poster campaign. Initial responses were positive, although some questioned the effectiveness of such surveys.

We also asked the team for their input into the development of the survey by participating in discussions around the key issues they felt needed to be explored. From this, we developed a pilot survey and tested it on a small number of interested staff. We changed and refined the questions, based on their feedback, to ensure we were asking the right questions.

We thought carefully about the  format of the questions too. We worked really hard to ensure they were easy to understand that the language was not misleading and was open enough to gain a good response. We also thought of format in terms of electronic and paper distribution. The final survey was disseminated to around 300 staff using Survey Monkey and email. We also printed out a small number of paper versions for those who preferred this medium.

We gave staff one week to complete the survey, and sent an email prompt in that time to encourage more people to share their thoughts. We guaranteed anonymity to try and ensure as much genuine, constructive feedback as possible.

The data was analysed by the Director of Staff and Pupil Wellbeing. They created a summary of the key findings which they presented to the senior management team (SMT), alongside suggestions for the Staff Wellbeing Programme in the following term. The SMT gave feedback on what was likely to work well and how it could be operationalised.

We also presented the findings at an all-staff INSET session and uploaded them on the school intranet so we could be totally open with staff about their views. A summary of the results (completely anonymised) was fed back to all staff with the action points that we had agreed on. These were generally well received, with staff keen for small changes to happen quickly.

Downloadable resources

Wellbeing Survey Poster encouraging Staff

The results

Out of around 300 staff, we got 127 responses from across the school. We gleaned a large amount of information on perceptions that were previously unknown, and the quantitative and qualitative data provided an array of information that was used to develop the Wellbeing Programme and to help embed a new culture into the school.

The key concerns raised and proposed actions were:

  1. Workload: Over 25% of respondents said workload was challenging to manage at times of the year.
    Action: More careful consideration by SMT when planning the year including fairer distribution of duties and expectations made clear to all new recruits. We also carefully reconsidered the duties of existing staff, using a matrix to manage responsibilities.
  2. Staff voice: Over 75% of respondents felt we needed a more effective and representative staff committee.
    Action: A staff committee is to be set up to gather genuine staff voice and include as many different staff groups as possible. The committee will meet every half term  and will feedback to the whole staff body and input into SMT.
    An interest group is working on what remit it will initially cover; it is thought they will discuss matters such as pay, workload and responsibilities, though we have decided that this should be adapted by the group as it develops.
  3. Personal development: Nearly 40% of respondents were keen for more opportunities for personal development.
    Action: Launch a new coaching programme. This has been offered to all teaching staff and, if successful, it will be rolled out to all staff. This offers the opportunity for several coaching sessions with a member of SMT who has coaching experience to discuss school-based or external goals.
  4. Awareness of activities and facilities available to staff: Over 20% of respondents felt they were not well informed about opportunities available to staff.
    Action: We now send a termly email and have a noticeboard with details available on our intranet about everything from details about the availability of the gym and pool for staff-only sessions, as well as staff activities such as tennis, golf and cricket. We also found that staff wanted new activities and have trialled mindfulness, pilates and a book club, as well as a cycle to work scheme.
  5. Low awareness of ‘Wellbeing Issues’
    Action: We now dedicate INSET sessions to staff wellbeing. External speakers have been invited to deliver training on topics such as wellbeing and time management.

The general consensus across the staff body appears to be that mental health and wellbeing is now much more on the agenda and discussed openly…

Evaluation

A year on, most of the above actions are in place. The second annual Staff Wellbeing Survey will be launched soon and will give us chance to effectively evaluate the success of the actions developed from last year (many of the questions will be repeated so that year-on-year comparisons can be made).

The general consensus across the staff body appears to be that mental health and wellbeing is now much more on the agenda and discussed openly across the school – and staff seem to value that. Anecdotal evidence also suggests the simple actions adopted have led to a more positive and supportive working environment – that there are more people to talk to if someone has a problem and there is much more information provided about facilities and activities open to staff.

An article on the process of developing an effective staff wellbeing survey can be found here.

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