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The impact of a positive school culture on staff retention and recruitment

Mark Solomons - creator of triple ERA and GESS Judges Commendation Award-winning Welbee, an online evaluation and staff wellbeing improvement tool - author of ‘What Makes Teachers Unhappy and What Can You Do About It? Building a Culture of Staff Wellbeing’, and an acclaimed wellbeing expert with over 15 years’ experience developing leadership and culture in education – discusses the impact of a positive school culture on recruitment and retention.

There is higher than ever demand for teachers and other staff in international schools. ISC Research published in November 2023, revealed the potential need to recruit 158,400 more teachers by 2028 if the growth in schools recovers to the pre-pandemic level. Even at current growth rates there will be the need for an additional 70,500.

This also means there will be increasing competition to attract those already teaching. So what can schools do to retain and recruit the best staff in a highly competitive labour market?

Know your numbers

Start by understanding your current situation - key indicators can be tracked to provide the right data to help make the best decisions. These include:

The number of staff leaving as a percentage of the total headcount Time leavers have spent in role - as an average and looking at trends Time spent filling vacancies and the process costs The number and percentage of vacancies filled internally Days lost to staff absence and costs including any cover/substitute teachers

The costs associated with recruitment are significantly higher compared to those incurred proactively managing staff wellbeing and investing in appropriate tools. Many teacher’s ‘leave’ decisions have a wellbeing component, and with the direct and indirect costs for each vacancy, recruitment is expensive. There is significant scope to reduce these and other associated costs – the right spend on improving wellbeing, generates a return on investment - putting money into the budget, rather than taking it out.

Regularly measure your school’s climate and staff wellbeing - collecting and using staff feedback to inform decisions, demonstrates that you listen. Find the time to ask staff – this is not always easy - building it into ongoing conversations and check-ins, is a smart thing to do. You can add to this by using well-designed anonymous and benchmarked staff surveys. Repeat the surveys at set intervals, using the same questions, so you can track progress and the actions that make a real difference.

Using this information will provide you with a greater understanding of how staff feel. It will give you an insight into challenges that may be having an impact on their work and personal lives: workload, finances, access to professional and personal development, career provision, mental health, wellbeing and support.

Stay interviews can also help better understand what is likely to keep staff, and are often more informative than exit interviews with leaving staff, whose feedback can often be generic and is not always as actionable.

Taking action

When talking with education leaders, I often hear about the challenges associated with initiating change, particularly when it involves culture – the lack of time or capacity or the difficulties of simultaneously juggling numerous priority projects.

Yet if we do not act to deliver change where it is needed, we will get the same outcomes. While it is tempting to ensure everything is lined up and ready before we begin, imperfect action always beats perfect inaction – continual small changes and improvements can have a big impact.

Staff want to feel they belong, are valued, appreciated, and listened to. Simple everyday actions consistently done well, make a real difference:

Relate – before beginning to discuss work tasks, ask staff about themselves, even just for a minute or so, and converse as you pass in the corridors or in the staff room.

Be visible and present - recognise and praise staff when you see something being done well. ‘Managing by wandering around’ (MBWA) is not designed to monitor teaching or keep an eye on pupil behaviour, but rather to highlight positive experiences going on in school.

Involve staff in decisions that affect them - implementing change without an explanation creates feelings of powerlessness and lack of autonomy, which lower wellbeing. Be open and transparent and ensure staff members understand why an action is being taken. Promoting positive communication will help dissipate gossip and cliques.

Reduce workload – remove high effort and low impact activities and automate aspects of those that are high effort and high impact. If staff are given new or additional duties, remove a task that equates to the additional responsibilities.

Help and encourage staff to look after themselves – provide access to effective wellbeing resources – for example Welbee’s Wellbeing Toolkit, with resources to support both leadership and staff.

Professional development - alongside required school-wide PD, give staff access to personalised PD which meets their needs or interests.

Look after yourself - as a leader be a role model for colleagues - to help implement change you must live it yourself. For instance, if you are promoting an improved work/life balance with a suggested time for all staff to leave school, ensure you are among them.

The old models of education are changing, and to attract the best staff leaders must be open to new ideas and change. Recruitment, training, and retention are hot topics, and not just from a budgetary point of view. To prepare children and young people for the 21st Century, staff must be supported to embrace an increasing rate of change. Providing an attractive and supportive workplace culture with wellbeing at its centre, will help attract and retain staff, so it’s also the best place to start financially.

For further information, support, and advice about creating a culture with staff wellbeing at its centre, please contact

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