Staff morale is a concern for head teachers. A happy, contented workforce tends to be stable and efficient: staff absence and attrition rates are lower, staff morale and examination results often correlate, and schools may see improvements to their standing in the Department of Education's value added measure tables. The potential benefits are clear but the key question remains: what contributes to staff morale within schools, and what effect do perceived threats to safety have on this?
Recognising Safety Concerns
Sadly, our schools are not always havens of peace. Safety at school is increasingly cited as a concern by school staff, pupils, and parents. Although murderous assaults by outsiders remain thankfully rare within the UK, pupil-on-pupil violence, sometimes involving weapons, is increasing. Teachers, too, risk assault by pupils or parents. The wider problems are societal, economic, and mental health-related. Children, and their parents, do not exist in a vacuum; issues that affect them beyond the school gates are likely to become the school’s problem. A further threat comes from burglars or thieves: schools, usually relatively well-stocked with valuable IT equipment, are enticing targets. Anyone who works in a school must expect to meet, and deal with, some of these issues throughout their career.
Addressing Issues before they become Safety Concerns
Economic and social deprivation are difficult for schools to address. However, as with most things, recognising there is a problem is the first step to a solution. On the most simplistic level, a school may be able to provide breakfast for children who arrive hungry in the mornings, or perhaps supply others with essential uniform or items of school equipment. Sometimes, the money for this comes from staff members’ own pockets, and effective head teachers recognise this. They may be able to ensure that staff are reimbursed for any expenses but, more fundamentally, they will thank staff for the care and concern they show. They may also be able to access additional support for children suffering mental health difficulties. Successfully addressing such issues can have a real, positive and long-term effect on safety at school.
Using Telecommunications to alleviate Safety Concerns
Sometimes safety concerns go beyond any "soft" measures a school can implement. In these circumstances, practical solutions can help ensure safety at school. Telecommunications has an important part to play. There are many items on the market that perform well in the specific environment of a school, where many people work alone, and out of the earshot of another adult.
Configurable solutions, tailored to a specific school’s size, physical and geographical arrangement, and potential “flash-point” areas, can be cost effective and reassuring. Often, they are cloud-based, meaning there is no need for any hardware within the school. This negates the need for potentially obstructive installation processes, and makes vandalism or damage by other means much more difficult.
Schools can pick and choose from a range of alarm-triggering devices. Some are separate, portable devices that can be slipped into a pocket or worn around the neck. Others are triggered by means of an app on a smartphone. Finally, the more traditional, fixed panic button remains an option. An establishment may use a variety of these methods, depending on the working habits of its staff. Whichever devices are chosen, location options make it easy to determine an incident’s whereabouts, and responders may also be able to “listen in” to an unfolding situation in order to help them organise an appropriate response. This sort of system can store a full audit trail of each incident, which is of immense value during subsequent investigations by senior management, governors, and any concerned outside agencies.
Good Dialogue between Staff and Senior Management
Several pieces of union-funded research are clear that effective staff management depends upon excellent, two-way communication. In an era when targets and best practices can change almost overnight, staff need the support and understanding of senior management. An easy, and perhaps obvious, way to begin, or improve, this process is to ask staff what they feel works well at their school, and what does not.
When considering staff concerns, there may be a focus on teaching staff. However, everyone who works in a school has an important role to play, and it is essential to listen to the ideas and concerns of classroom assistants, technicians, lunchtime supervisors, caretakers, cleaners, and office staff.
Promote Staff Well-being through Cohesive Team Activities
This does not mean raft-building or fire-walking. Rather, it is the little things that so often enhance bonding: cakes on a Friday, quiz nights, a staff Christmas dinner or annual barbecue.
Well-managed Communications to Staff
Good communication is crucial for staff well-being. Those who feel kept in the dark, or out of the loop, may end up resentful, slapdash or panicked. However, those responsible for ensuring the right messages are passed on in a timely manner must not forget that their staff work hard and, often, unsociable hours. There is frequently a right time, and an appropriate method, for communications. Some head teachers, who banned senior management from emailing staff at the weekend, are testament to this, reporting increased efficiency and happier staff. Equally, looking hard at how messages are communicated to staff can reap dividends. Texts, and even tweets, may be quicker and easier to absorb than wordy emails or lengthy printed materials.
There is no single or one-size-fits-all solution. However, any head teacher serious about understanding how safety in schools affects staff morale will already be considering many of the points outlined here. Moreover, they will understand the need for a judicious balance of "soft" measures, such as better dialogue, with more practical ones, like increased use of telecommunications.