Catch up: Advice for the current times

‘HERE COMES SUMMER’ – a look head at some of those summer-term activities for school leaders and those working in schools with leadership responsibilities

An on-demand event jointly hosted by the NAHT and Discovery Education.

Andrew Hammond and Guy Dudley discussed the issues currently facing school leaders and those teaching and working in schools.

In this session, we covered:

  • Life after COVID-19: Infectious diseases guidance for schools
  • Get your house in order: a look at good premises and asbestos management
  • It’s that time of year again: staff appraisal
  • Take some time for yourself: steps to improve your wellbeing

Many of these topics have been supported by wider advice pieces that can be found in NAHT Discovery Education Pathway’s Advice Hub where you will have access to an on-line library of information, advice and guidance to support you in your professional role and your continuing professional and personal development and empowerment.

If you’re a Pathway subscriber, you can access these advice pieces in the Pathway Advice Hub.

LIFE AFTER COVID-19: INFECTIOUS DISEASES GUIDANCE FOR SCHOOLS

The government’s recent announcements, lifting COVID restrictions, has thrown many organisations, including schools, into doubt about how to deal with future COVID cases and what this will mean in practice. The government announcements appear to indicate that instead of compelling people, by law, to stay away from school if they have COVID, there will be a shift to place the responsibility on those with COVID to simply be considerate of others in carrying out their day-to-day duties and activities.

NAHT has called on the government to publish unambiguous guidance making it clear that those with COVID should not be in school and about when pupils and staff are able to safely return. Without such clarity, we know that many school leaders will be put in potentially difficult positions and will continue to have a number of concerns such as the future role of testing, supporting those who are medically vulnerable and the wider impact on staff.

 

What can schools do as restrictions are lifted?

Until further guidance is published and becomes more widely available, NAHT recommends that you treat COVID cases in the same way as you would be advised to treat any other infectious disease. Coronavirus disease [COVID-19] is an infectious disease, a virus, that can spread from an infected person’s mouth or nose in small liquid particles when they cough, sneeze, speak, sing or breathe.

Most people infected with the virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. However, some will become seriously ill and require medical attention. Throughout the pandemic, it has been important to practice respiratory etiquette, for example, by coughing into a flexed elbow, and to stay home and self-isolate until you recover if you feel unwell.

As those infected with COVID will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring any special treatment – NAHT recommends that COVID cases are dealt with accordingly – as a ‘respiratory infection’.

The Public Health Agency has produced particularly helpful guidance for schools that you can find by clicking on this link – Guidance on infection control in schools and other childcare settings – in short, this is a downloadable/printable colour poster that you can display in your school office and/or staff room and elsewhere around the school. The guidance has a particularly helpful section on ‘respiratory infections’.

Although COVID is not explicitly set out in this guidance, it is a ‘respiratory infection’ and the recommendations and additional comments set out in the guidance can be applied in COVID-related circumstances.

Whilst you’ll want to consult your employing body about your employer’s overall approach to the treatment of future COVID cases, if you follow the Public Health Agency guidance, you’re likely to be on ‘safe ground’ as you’ll be treating future COVID cases as ‘respiratory infection’ cases and applying the ‘respiratory infections’ guidance under your school’s sickness absence management procedures.

In all circumstances, it would be prudent to consult your HR service provider as the management of future COVID cases is likely to subject to change in light of further government announcements.

 

GET YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER: A LOOK AT GOOD PREMISES AND ASBESTOS MANAGEMENT

Calling all school leaders and school business managers / leaders – the Department for Education (DfE) has produced its good estate management for schools (GEMS) guidance. The guidance aims to help schools and responsible bodies manage their buildings and land.

The guidance includes the following:

  • An interactive version of the GEMS self-assessment tool, which will automatically generate an action plan for your school
  • An interactive tool to help track compliance with health and safety and building regulations and inspections
  • A checklist to help reduce energy and water usage
  • Information on responsibilities and guidance and links from the Health and Safety Executive
  • Links to ISBL’s professional standards and the competency framework for governing boards.

Alongside this, the DfE has also published its revised asbestos management guidance for schools. This guidance aims to help schools and colleges understand their duties in relation to asbestos management. This guidance should be considered and read alongside the Health and Safety Executive’s duty to manage asbestos guidance and asbestos management checklist for schools

The guidance includes the following:

  • Further clarity on the role of duty holders and employers
  • Practical information about what duty holders are required to do to manage asbestos effectively
  • A section on what to do if things go wrong.

IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN: STAFF APPRAISAL

Professional Standards for Head Teachers, Teachers and Teaching Assistants in England & Wales

Head teachers’ standards

The head teachers’ standards are non-statutory and intended as guidance to be interpreted in the context of each individual head teacher and school.

They are designed to be relevant to all head teachers.

The standards can be used to:

  • shape head teachers’ own practice and professional development, within and beyond the school
  • support the recruitment and appointment of head teachers, including the development of job descriptions and person specifications
  • underpin frameworks for the training of school leaders, including current and aspiring head teachers
  • inform the appraisal and performance management arrangements of head teachers.

 

Teacher’s Standards

The Teachers’ Standards [that define the minimum level of QTS teaching practice] have statutory force [Education (School Teachers’ Appraisal) (England) Regulations 2012].

From 1 September 2013, the performance of all teachers, regardless of their career stage, will be assessed against the Teachers’ Standards.

The Teachers’ Standards effectively set out a ‘code’ of good teaching practice and professional conduct, and as such, it would seem to be perfectly reasonable for schools to expect all teaching staff to meet the expectations set out in the standards document.

Teachers should, therefore, be evaluated against all the elements set out in the Teachers’ Standards, and it is for schools to put appropriate arrangements in place to achieve a fair and equitable process of evaluation.

The following three linked-documents are self-explanatory but the abbreviated version is particularly helpful as it captures everything you really need to know on just one page!

Teachers’ Standards

Teachers’ Standards – the abbreviated version

Teachers’ Standards – how they should be used

 

Higher Level Teaching Assistants’ Standards

In January 2003, employers, school workforce unions and the Department for Education and Skills [as it was then known] signed a national agreement that paved the way for radical reform of the school workforce to raise standards and tackle workload.

This agreement included proposals to introduce the role of Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTA) who would bring a distinct contribution to the work of schools. DfES and the Training and Development Agency for Schools – subsequently published a set of national standards for Higher Level Teaching Assistants.

This document sets out what is expected of those who are seeking to take on this additional responsibility. These standards help to ensure that all Higher Level Teaching Assistants have the necessary skills and expertise to make an active contribution to pupils’ learning.

Higher Level Teaching Assistants’ Standards

Teaching Assistants

The Professional Standards for Teaching Assistants were originally drafted by a working group set up by the Department for Education (DfE) in conjunction with organisations representing the schools workforce, practitioners and others also committed to ensuring excellence in education.

The Teaching Assistant Standards are non-mandatory and non-statutory, but they sit alongside the statutory standards for teachers and help to define the role and purpose of teaching assistants to ensure that schools can maximise the educational value and contribution of employees working directly with pupils.

The standards are endorsed by NAHT.

Teaching Assistants’ Standards

 

Professional Standards in Wales

The professional standards for teaching and leadership in Wales were published in September 2017 and NQTs commencing induction from that date are also required to work to the standards. NQTs who commenced their induction before this date will complete their induction using the same standards they started with. All other serving teachers and leaders moved to the standards from September 2018.

The final standards were published on 1 September 2019 following a public consultation in March 2019.

Schools are encouraged to use the standards with their support staff (Teaching Assistants and Higher Level Teaching Assistants) to reflect on their practice and identify professional learning. The standards are not currently statutory for support staff but this will be the subject of ongoing consideration.

In Wales, there are separate documents that cover the professional standards that apply to all practitioners in education – you can find all you need by clicking on this link

 

Appraisal – getting it right and avoiding the pitfalls

These are the areas that head teachers and governing bodies regularly find themselves challenged on.

  • Who’s appraised and who’s exempt?

The current regulations that provide the statutory framework for teachers’ appraisal in England came into force in 2012 and apply to all maintained schools in England, including maintained special schools and local authorities in respect of unattached teachers.

The regulations do not, however, apply to teachers in maintained schools who are serving a statutory period of induction, teachers employed for less than a period of one term or any teacher who is the subject of capability procedures. The regulations in Wales came in a year earlier than England, in 2011.

  • Evidence, evidence, evidence…

Schools should ideally set out, in their appraisal policies, what evidence they’ll consider when making judgements about whether teachers’ performance has met the relevant standards and their individual objectives. Evidence should provide all teachers with a fair opportunity, in their appraisal, to demonstrate they have met the relevant standards and their objectives.

  • Minimise the workload for yourself and others

A fundamental principle that schools must consider when developing and implementing appraisal policies is the need to minimise the impact of workload on individual teachers, line managers and head teachers.

  • Equalities considerations – Equality Act 2010 and Public Sector Equality Duty

To discharge this statutory duty, schools must have due regard to doing the following:

  • Eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under the Act
  • Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those that don’t
  • Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those that don’t.

Compliance with the duty will help schools to avoid direct and/or indirect discrimination.

Schools should ensure all staff are treated fairly, and they should also take particular care in respect of those staff who have different working patterns or those with particular ‘protected characteristics’ under equality legislation – age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

An employee will be discriminated against if they can argue they have been (or have good reason to believe they are likely to be) treated less favourably than a comparator employee and the less favourable treatment can be attributed to reasons directly or indirectly associated with a protected characteristic. At the same time, schools should ensure part-time and fixed-term employees are not treated less favourably.

Appraisers, pay recommendations and decisions in schools should be assessed to establish whether there are implications for people with particular protected characteristics. So, for example, to avoid discrimination, schools should consider how objectives can be fairly weighted, how pay progression can be made fairly available to all eligible employees irrespective of their individual circumstances, and how pay decisions and appeals against pay decisions, can be supported by a narrative that reflects the fair treatment of employees.

A pay audit of the school will help to not only monitor and evaluate pay decisions and practices but also remedy identified anomalies and patterns that are emerging and have been created by the pay decisions that have been taken over time. A pay audit will help to ensure the rate of pay for each job is equitable and equal pay principles can be fulfilled – men and women doing the same job should be paid the same or broadly the same. Any differences, while permitted, must be capable of being objectively justified.

If your school wishes to avoid a challenge of discrimination, we recommend you do the following:

  1. Create a pay profile of staff by age, disability, race and gender
  2. Look at the reasons that employees with different protected characteristics are rewarded differently (if that is the case)
  3. Consider whether employees who share particular protected characteristics are being treated less favourably than comparator employees
  4. Take action to address any unfair treatment towards employees.
  • No surprises!

Teachers should receive feedback on their performance throughout the year at agreed intervals – there should be no surprises at the end of the year.

  • Appraisal determines pay

Schools should set out in their appraisal policy how the outcome of the appraisal process will feed into pay decisions.

  • Difficult conversations

There’s a clear expectation, set out in the STPCD, that good performance will lead to pay progression. However, where a teacher doesn’t qualify for pay progression, the line manager or head teacher must be able to explain the evidence that was taken into account to support this decision. This, potentially difficult conversation, is made much easier if such shortfalls are signalled to individual employees at intervals throughout the appraisal period.

  • Clear communication

Not only do shortfalls in performance need to be made clear to the individual employee, but, in equal measure, the employee must have a clear understanding of what is needed for a positive appraisal outcome and should be supported, in so far as possible, to achieve a positive outcome.

  • Training for appraisers

Schools should ensure all appraisers are suitably prepared for carrying out all elements of the appraisal process and training is made available if necessary.

  • Accountability for the appraisal process

While head teachers can and do delegate the appraisal of teachers to others, head teachers remain fully accountable for the appraisal process under the regulations.

  • Career-stage expectations

Teachers’ performance should be assessed against the relevant standards to a level that is consistent with what should reasonably be expected of a teacher at the relevant stage of their career. Teachers, however, shouldn’t be routinely expected to provide evidence that they meet all the standards.

  • Informal stage (support)

To ensure an accurate assessment of progress by a teacher can be made, it’s important that the range of support offered is ‘front-loaded’ during the informal stage. The maximum amount of additional support should be given at the commencement of the stage and should then ‘taper off’ completely so that by the end of the period, an assessment of the teacher, without any additional or further support, can be made.

  • Long-term absentees

There’s nothing in the statutory provisions that prevents a school from making performance-related pay decisions for teachers who are on long-term absence or that would mean doing so would place schools in breach of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010.

  • Avoiding discrimination

In relation to absence due to maternity leave, NAHT holds that if a woman is denied an appraisal because of her maternity, this will amount to discrimination. Similarly, employees returning from a career break may be unintentionally discriminated against because they have been absent from the workplace – if their absence is, say, related to their caring responsibilities, this is likely to be vulnerable to discrimination.

  • How to deal with appraisals for employees on maternity leave

To mitigate the risk of discriminating against pregnant employees or employees on maternity leave, schools should consider conducting appraisals before the employee leaves to go on maternity leave (even if this is early in the appraisal year) and then base any assessment of performance on the evidence to date in the relevant appraisal period. Account could also be taken of performance in previous appraisal periods if there’s very little to go on in the current appraisal period.

Assessment based on actual service will be easier to defend against criticism than speculative assessment based on what a teacher might have achieved during the year.

Alternatively, an employee should be given the opportunity to attend school during their maternity leave (on a ‘keep-in-touch’ day) or make written representations so that a reliable appraisal can take place and be recorded as usual.

  • Employees with a disability

Schools need to design their policies to ensure any disadvantage suffered by a disabled teacher, due to their disability, is mitigated by incorporating adjustments that can be reasonably made to accommodate a teacher in that position.

 

SCHOOL LEADERS: A GUIDE TO YOUR WELLBEING

There is no universally accepted definition of wellbeing – the one I lean towards is that wellbeing is about how people are made to feel as they go about their work.

Education Support’s Wellbeing Index defines wellbeing as experiencing “a sense of purpose, achievement and contribution and a balance between the challenges one has to deal with and the resources to overcome them”.

 

Are you entitled to wellbeing?

There’s good news!  The answer is – yes – you are entitled to wellbeing!

Section 2 of the School Teachers’ Terms & Conditions Document (aka, the STPCD) states:

“A head teacher is entitled to a break of reasonable length in the course of each school day and must arrange for a suitable person to assume responsibility for the discharge of their functions as head teacher during that break.

Governing bodies and head teachers, in carrying out their duties, must have regard to the need for the heads teacher and teachers at the school being able to achieve a satisfactory balance between the time required to discharge their professional duties and the time required to pursue their personal interests and ensure that they adhere to the working limits set out in the Working Time Regulations”.

 

Achieve your own wellbeing through others

  • Commit to developing a wellbeing culture at your school
  • Commission a wellbeing survey for staff and be ready and prepared to act, reasonably, on any findings
  • Develop a Wellbeing Policy on the back of the survey and commit to developing good wellbeing practices
  • Consider establishing a Wellbeing group to lead on actions arising from the survey and task the group to report to the senior leadership team at agreed intervals
  • Keep wellbeing firmly on the school’s agenda

 

Wellbeing practices you can implement

  • Delegate responsibility: this requires a leap of faith from you but does not amount to an abdication of accountability
  • Build capacity, clarity and consistency: develop an effective TLR structure and tell staff what’s expected of them – use the Teachers’ Standards to set the benchmark
  • Hygiene factors: ensure the school’s environment is pleasant and welcoming
  • Invest in staff development: give staff the opportunity to use and develop their skills
  • Staff support services: hold return to work meetings, ensure staff have access to an Employee Assistance Programme and make effective use of the school’s Occupational Health Service [you may need to consult your HR support team here].

 

What about my wellbeing?

Get control and the best out of your day

  • Make a ‘to do’ list of actions and prioritise them
  • Organise your day and allocate actions to chosen times of the day
  • Build your daily break into your working day; the best tip I’ve ever heard is to pop your daily break into your diary first and then you plan the rest of your work around it!
  • Delegate actions to those around you and / or ask them for help
  • Walkabout: you get to meet staff and pupils and, at the same time, stretch your legs
  • If you don’t feel well, go home, get better and get your deputy to deputise!
  • Use your GP and occupational health resources to support you and your return to work
  • Build wellbeing into CPD for the SLT, teaching and support staff
  • Make wellbeing one of your performance management objectives
  • Build in 10 minutes to reflect on your day

 

Get control and the best out of your week

  • Plan your weekend so that you can use the time to best effect
  • Spend time with family and friends to help build a network of support
  • Build exercise into your daily routine, something you enjoy doing
  • Try to eat healthily
  • Consider taking up a new hobby, interest or refreshing an old skill
  • Manage your health: GP; dentist; opticians (give yourself an MOT!)
  • Get your personal finances and affairs in order
  • Walk the dog or walk someone else’s dog
  • Plan your holidays; it’s fun to do and something to look forward to
  • If you have an old bed, buy a new one, to ensure you sleep as well as possible
  • Stay alert to Voltaire’s quote “Perfect is the enemy of good”
  • Remember why wellbeing is important: it improves staff attendance, performance and outcomes
  • Embed simple and unconditional wellbeing into your daily routine
  • You lead and model behaviour so your approach can lift the wellbeing of others around you

 

Wellbeing can’t be bought off the shelf

  • It develops at a pace when there is a genuine, positive and authentic intention and approach to creating a wellbeing framework and working practices that support the approach
  • A wellbeing approach lies in every interaction, encounter and communication that you, as a school leader have with others

 

We end with a message from Tim Bowen, President of NAHT:

“The need for school leaders to prioritise their wellbeing has never been greater.

As a school leader you have to look after yourself. 

You cannot meet everyone else’s needs, yet ignore your own. 

By putting yourself first, at least for some of the time, you are in effect, putting your school first”.