The secret recipe for high-performing schools? Heads who listen to teachers

  • 2016-04-21
  • The Guardian

Many years ago I was asked by the teachers’ union NASUWT to conduct a national study on teacher stress, given the high numbers leaving from burnout. At that time, like now, schools were political footballs, where successive governments would introduce major disruptive change, sometimes just for the sake of it.

Today we still have governments imposing their political philosophy on education and tinkering with the structure and curriculum of schools. In a parliamentary democracy, where education is primarily state funded, that is unlikely ever to end – even with the ideal academy-type structure. So how can schools perform effectively under huge pressure from central and local government, parents and the community? How do we create high-performing workplaces?

School leaders are part of the solution to helping schools face the challenges of fewer resources (both financially and in terms of staff) and more students than ever before, along with increasing expectations from parents. We need passionate and highly motivated headteachers, who manage staff by praise and reward and who have the social and interpersonal skills to recognise when staff are not coping or need support.

Those heads who manage by “command and control” or bullying damage teachers’ health, morale and – most importantly in this context – performance. In a major national study I carried out with a colleague from Manchester University on bullying at work, we found that healthcare workers and teachers were among the professions where a bullying management style was most prevalent. This led to increased sickness absence, poorer mental health, and poorer performance among the bullied – and even among professionals who weren’t being bullied but who worked in an intimidating culture (a form of secondary bullying).