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"Being placed in special measures was a wake-up call – but my school won't give up"

Guest Post
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In this post, one headteacher – who has asked not to be named – reveals what happened when her school was placed in special measures. Inspectors identified 19 areas of improvement - it wasn't the outcome her team had been hoping for. It made for some big changes in the school, though: ones that she believes have led to a much happier and more productive community. 

What impact did the Ofsted grade have on your staff and the school?

It was a big wake-up call.  After the school was placed in special measures we implemented a lot of changes – we had to in order to raise the bar and achieve higher standards.  We made changes in every aspect, from teaching and assessment to behaviour and welfare.

It was tough, and as we moved along with our extensive school improvement plan, it was obvious that the new direction of the school didn’t align with everyone’s expectations.  In the first nine months we had an 88% staff turnover rate.  But, happily, most of our pupils have stayed with us.

How did you address issues around staff recruitment?

It was difficult to find staff who understood the challenges we were facing as a school and what it was going to take to overcome these challenges, particularly within the SLT.

We’ve built great relationships with agencies during the recruitment process.  We’ve found a lot of success using supply teachers and NQTs.

You need to be upfront with new recruits.  Make sure they’re aware of the difficulties you’re facing, the plan in place to improve them and what their role will be in that plan. Set realistic expectations.

Now we’ve got a great team of staff in the school.  Everyone knows how they contribute to school improvement and what is expected of them, and they are committed to working together to keep the school moving forward.

What do you think school leaders can do to help retention in the profession?

It sounds trivial, but just listening to your staff is so important. When I started, one of the biggest frustrations among staff was that the photocopier was constantly breaking and jamming, so we replaced it.  An easy change that had a big impact on efficiency and stress!

We place a big focus on coaching and support at all levels, from classroom teachers to line managers, department heads and the senior leadership team.  Everyone knows they have someone they can talk to and that their opinions and they themselves are valued.

You need to recognise the challenges that your staff are facing and support each other wherever possible, particularly within the SLT. It’s important to realise the capabilities and limitations of your staff and yourself.  When you have a clear picture of strengths and areas for improvement you can set achievable goals, which is vital for motivation and career development.

What strategies have you put in place to address staff morale and wellbeing?

We encourage additional PPA time and teambuilding events, like pizza nights.  We’ve had wellbeing days with activities like yoga, massage and stress management for the staff. We have a compulsory early finish time on Fridays and make sure all staff leave by 4:30pm to encourage a better work-life balance.

Staff have access to a wellbeing hotline through our local authority.  We make sure all staff know about this service and make a point to recirculate the contact information during times of high pressure.

We also use a service called MindUp, through the Hawn Foundation.  That has been a really useful tool in helping teachers and pupils find focus and reduce stress.

What advice do you have for senior leaders facing challenges in their schools?

Be open and honest, not just with staff, but with pupils and parents too.  Full transparency goes a long way in establishing trust, respect and support throughout the school community.

While this has been an extremely challenging role, I have never thought about giving up. I knew that the problems facing our school would take time to turn around – we weren’t going to see results in a week, a month or a term.  It has taken 18 months of focus and dedication, but now you can feel the positive change when you’re in the school.  That was reflected in our latest Ofsted inspection, and in March we came out of special measures.

Be relentless. Be focused. Create a supportive network among staff. And accept that it requires patience to really see results.

If you're looking for creative and high-impact ideas to help you recruit, develop and motivate talented teachers to stay at your school, then check out this one-day event from The Key. You'll hear more about marketing vacancies to the right candidates and find out how to identify, manage and grow the talent in your school. 

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