How governors can support staff wellbeing

Written by: Neil Collins | Published:
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How can your school’s governors help to support the wellbeing of your staff? Neil Collins offers some pointer

Your governing board is best placed to understand your challenges. Your school governors and trustees have more insight than most into how the pandemic has affected you as school leaders and your staff.

They have heard first-hand about the many difficult decisions you have had to take to ensure the best possible education for children and young people, in times of great uncertainty and challenge.

More than 4,000 governors and trustees responded to a recent survey on the wellbeing of their school staff run by GovernorHub and The Key for School Governors.

More than half (57%) reported being concerned about the mental health of their headteacher or CEO, and 71% reported being concerned about the mental health of school staff, including support staff.

On the issue of workload, a worrying 70% said that they are concerned about the workload of their headteacher or CEO, and 75% reported being concerned about the workload of all school staff.

Many governors and trustees are tracking workload and wellbeing, and the findings reveal that such monitoring has increased in the pandemic period – 81% of those surveyed said that their board is tracking the workload and related mental health of the headteacher or CEO, while 86% said they are doing so for all school staff.

The Headteacher Update Podcast: Our recent episode looked at effective governance in the primary school, with lots of practical advice on how headteachers and governors can work together effectively. You can listen here.

One respondent told GovernorHub: “I believe the majority of people involved with governance are seriously concerned about the pressures and impact of Covid-19 on all areas of school life – from the children to the staff, and especially the senior leaders of the school.”

Another reported: “The pressure on leadership teams and school staff has been immense in the last two years. They have received scant recognition, support or acknowledgement. I fear that there will be many people leaving the profession and know of many who already have.”

So, as well as understanding your challenges, what can your governors and trustees do to help to alleviate some of these pressures and provide support?

Be clear on the strategic role

Unlike how the chair of governors supports your wellbeing as headteacher, the way that governors support wider staff wellbeing should be more hands-off. Your board needs to make sure that:

  • Relevant policies and processes are in place which facilitate a healthy work/life balance among your staff and don't put undue pressure on workload.
  • The school adheres to the working time limits set out in the Working Time Regulations 1998.
  • The governing board doesn't make unreasonable demands on the time of staff, including your time.
  • The governing board supports you and your teachers to achieve a satisfactory work/life balance. This is a requirement for maintained schools, but good practice for all school types.
  • The governing board provides appropriate challenge and support to you including asking probing questions, setting targets for improvement where feedback shows there are staff wellbeing issues, and working together with you on your school vision.

If you want to focus on wellbeing in school as a whole, everyone should embrace it as part of your school’s vision and values. Consider if it is a key feature already – if not, a good start might be to sit down with your governors and refresh your vision statement.

Make sure that any steps taken are substantial, not superficial. As Vic Goddard, co-principal of Passmores Academy in Essex, said in our recent staff wellbeing webinar for governing boards: “Forced wellbeing is just not wellbeing.”

Review data to help you identify strategic priorities

Your governors should work with you to set up a process for gathering feedback and evidence, to give you an insight into how staff manage their workload. They can help you look for patterns and trends in the data and raise questions with you if they identify any potential issues.

These different sources of data are all helpful to bring to your governors so they can understand and monitor staff wellbeing in your school:

  • Staff surveys: Your board can work with you to shape the questions, identify strategic priorities and account for the success of new strategies put in place as a result.
  • Staff absence rates: If staff feel happy and healthy, they are less likely to be off sick (for example, due to anxiety, stress or burn-out).
  • Your school's HR spend: If fewer staff are off sick, this can reduce the amount of HR spend your school is using on supply staff.
  • Staff turnover records and exit interviews: These can give an indication of general wellbeing and more specific points to consider.
  • Conversations you have had with staff: For example, you might share with governors that you spoke to five members of staff who all said they have seen a huge reduction in workload since your school introduced a particular initiative.

Monitor any new initiatives you put in place

Your governors can suggest initiatives, but it is down to you to decide whether to implement them, and how to do it – as always, your governors’ role will be strategic rather than operational.

They can monitor any chosen initiatives to make sure they are having an impact and show how wellbeing is being embedded in your school culture.

They will do this by asking questions during board meetings (before, during and after you have implemented an initiative). They might ask: “What is the evidence that this initiative is needed? What is the expected impact?” They may also go on learning walks to see the initiative in practice and determine what impact it has had on the school.

Finally, they may want to look at data (including from the sources referenced above) to make sure initiatives are having a positive impact. For example, positive or negative comments in surveys or from conversations can give a useful insight into how staff feel about an initiative, and if they think it is working/has worked.

Apply a wellbeing lens to everything, including policies

Wellbeing is not something for governors and trustees to look at in isolation. Your board should review your school policies especially through this lens, by asking questions like:

  • Does our school have a flexible working policy?
  • Does our school have a staff wellbeing policy? Does it include a section on work/life balance?
  • Do our school’s health and safety policy and risk assessments take workload and wellbeing into account?

When approving other policies, such as your marking policy and behaviour policy, governors should ask questions like: “How is wellbeing reflected in this policy? How does this policy impact staff wellbeing?”

Your governors should look to make sure that your policies do not add to staff workload unnecessarily. They should check that all policies contain a named member of staff who takes responsibility for the policy, and that they clearly set out processes and expectations around staff-related issues (such as pay, performance management, staff discipline and grievances).

Check their own practices

Finally, it is important that your governing board reviews its own practices with staff workload in mind; whether that is appointing a sub-committee to take responsibility for overseeing staff health and wellbeing or making sure board and committee meetings do not run late into the evening.

Your governors should also be aware of other events in the school calendar when scheduling meetings, and make sure that they don’t make unnecessary requests for information or reports from you or your staff.

Attending school events and undertaking periodic school visits is a great way for your governors to show their support for school staff and what they do.

In our survey, 89% of governors said that they would recommend being a governor to other people, with the main reason being because “they can make a difference”. The desire to have a positive impact on the future of young people is why so many governors choose to get involved. Working to support our brilliant school staff to be at your best every day seems like a great way to start.

  • Neil Collins is a GovernorHub founder and head of governance at The Key. Visit

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