Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Record of achievement

ASCL's commercial partner Kirkland Rowell has, for several years, conducted staff satisfaction surveys for secondary schools. It has just compiled and released benchmark figures for 2005-06. Mark Chaplin explains what the results mean for ASCL members.

Staff morale is one of the best indicators of teacher and support staff job satisfaction - and where morale is high, staff typically have a positive outlook on their own workload and the school's attitude to discipline.

This conclusion is drawn from four years' collective data based on our work conducting satisfaction surveys for more than 1,000 secondary schools across the UK. From it, Kirkland Rowell has built up what we believe is the largest, most up-to-date database of secondary school stakeholders opinions.

The figures seen here, for 2005-06, represent the national attitudes and perceptions of teachers and support staff in schools and provide a benchmark from which schools can measure individual performance.

Findings going back to 2003 have been calculated but, interestingly, there have been no significant changes in attitudes over that period.
The good news is that very few of the categories rate lower than a five, which would be considered average on a one-to-ten scale.

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, teachers and support staff give some of the highest marks to the quality of teaching and the caring attitude of teachers towards students. Relationships with their closest colleagues, including heads of departments and line managers, also rate highly.

On the lower end of the scale, again unsurprisingly, are staff workload and staff morale - results which reinforce the findings of other recent surveys, such as Headspace from ICM and The Guardian and the STRB's annual workload survey.

Related factors

There are some very clear patterns which have emerged in staff survey results. Schools which tend to have good scores across the board almost always have a very good score for 'vision of headteacher' and 'communication from senior management team'.

Conversely, schools which tend towards a majority of lower scores almost always have low scores for 'discipline', 'pupil respect for others', and 'quality of school management'.

In a school achieving mostly lower scores from staff, 'discipline' will nearly always be the top priority for improvement by a considerable margin.

A score of 'poor facilities' in a staff survey also seems to have a halo effect and results in the lowering of all other scores.
Perhaps the most reliable barometer of satisfaction is the score for 'staff morale'. Where this is high all other scores tend to follow suit; the opposite is also true. High scores for staff morale and good school discipline almost always seem to go hand in hand - as do high scores for staff morale and staff workload.

Predictably, we find that overall response rates to staff surveys are highest where communication between management and staff is rated high.

It is important to remember that these results measure perceptions, not performance. Failure to achieve a high score may have much more to do with poor communication of a school's successes rather than with actual performance itself.

However, a steadily improving aspect of school life will, in most cases, quickly be picked up by staff, parents and pupils and will be reflected in the results of stakeholder surveys.

Because Kirkland Rowell has data from such a large number of schools and can benchmark the findings, surveys which have been tailored to individual schools can be weighted so that leaders can consider their results in light of what staff usually say in similar schools.

This weighting puts the results into the context of 'how well are we perceived to be doing in relation to what would usually be expected in a school like ours'. Without these weightings, a school wouldn't know whether a low score for a question meant that it had an issue to tackle or if it was in line with the majority of schools.

For example, as the benchmark table (right) illustrates, in a staff survey 'relationship with head of department' usually fairs very well and achieves a high satisfaction rating while 'staff workload' nearly always achieves a much lower rating.

Without weightings, almost every school would think it had a problem with staff workload when in fact it is common to achieve a lower score.

Using the results

Stakeholder surveys have become increasingly popular in the last few years with the rise of the self-evaluation culture. The most common use of the survey results is to demonstrate reliable independent evidence when completing the SEF. The second most popular use is to identify areas where there is a perception of poor performance before the inspectors come, then to show evidence of change and improvement in subsequent results.

Schools use the survey results in a number of other ways - for example, supporting the development plan, more cost effective targeting of resources, picking out the most flattering statistics for inclusion in the prospectus or website, or (very popular with our clients) proving that the vocal minority of parents or staff often do not reflect the views of the silent majority.

Because the surveys measure both importance and satisfaction, the results tell which answers should be cause for the most concern or celebration. What schools should strive for is a correlation between what the stakeholders say the school does best and what they say is most important to them.

On the flip side, there would be cause for concern if respondents awarded the lowest satisfaction scores to those issues which they ranked as most important. These areas should represent the school's priorities for improvement; either through better performance or more effective communication of existing achievements.

Schools get the most from our surveys when they use them on a regular basis as a monitoring system and build up a detailed picture of how their stakeholders' perceptions change over time. This allows schools to gather statistically reliable opinion data on all aspects of school life, not just truancy and exam results.

Mark Chaplin is the managing partner for Kirkland Rowell. To contact him email mark.chaplin@kirkland-rowell.com

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