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School’s out…at 1.40pm

Early finishes on Friday that allow staff to jet off on weekend city breaks, a tea trolley service, and banning after-school meetings and emails are among the “scalable, minimal cost” measures helping one school buck the trend on recruitment and retention.

Simon Hart, the principal of Springwest Academy in Hounslow, west London, also encourages “random acts of kindness” such as giving a plant to a colleague.

The word “believe” emblazons his office, a nod to Ted Lasso, the hit television programme about an optimistic American football coach unexpectedly hired to lead an English soccer team.

Simon Hart

Nationally, secondary recruitment targets are missed every year and record numbers are leaving the profession.

Happiness is…teaching at Springwest

But a third of Springwest’s workforce has been there for a decade or more, and in-house surveys suggest staff are happy.

Last year, Ofsted found the school was ‘good’ and noted “staff said that leaders are considerate of their wellbeing and have taken action to reduce workload”.

At the time, a survey of 77 staff found 96 per cent enjoyed working at the school and 89 per cent felt bosses were considerate of their wellbeing.

Data suggests the wider teacher workforce is less satisfied with their lot.

The DfE’s latest working lives survey of teachers and leaders found just 46 per cent of 10,000 polled were satisfied with their job “all or most of the time”.

Officials from the Department for Education’s workload reduction taskforce visited Springwest before Christmas and “were taken by the culture” and “how happy the workforce is”, says Hart.

Springwest Academy
Springwest Academy

The nature of their work means schools can’t be as flexible as other employers. For example, they cannot replicate any move to remote and hybrid working during and pandemic.

But some flexible working is on the rise. From 2022 to 2023, the proportion of teachers granted ad-hoc requests to start work late or finish early rose from 7 to 14 per cent, the DfE’s survey found.

The number who reported they were given ad-hoc days off also doubled from 6 to 12 per cent over the same period.

Overall the proportion reporting having some form of flexible working rose from 40 to 46 per cent. Part-time working was the most common approach.

‘Zero or minimal cost’

Hart says Springwest does things that “are scalable and zero cost or minimal cost”.

School finishes at 1.40pm on a Friday, a policy he inherited when he joined the school, part of Tudor Park Education Trust, in 2020.

Monday to Thursday, school runs between 9am and 4pm. Teachers can leave 10 minutes after their pupils.

Hart “purposefully” leaves promptly on Fridays and encourages others to do the same.

He often takes a “mindful walk”, but said some teachers took advantage of Heathrow’s proximity, jetting off on city breaks.

And he admits to an “ambition” to move to a nine-day working fortnight from September next year.

He also recommends no after-school meetings. “We’re all exhausted, aren’t we?”

At Springwest, staff start at 8.30am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and at 8.20am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Half-hour teacher-led group coaching sessions are held first thing on a Tuesday morning. The same slot on a Thursday is filled with department meetings.

No out-of-hours emails

Hart has also banned staff from sending emails in the evenings and on weekends. He sends one all-staff email, collating all key messages, each morning.

In November 2023, Teacher Tapp asked 9,144 teachers what leaders should do to improve wellbeing in school.

Thirty-two per cent said leaders should lower expectations for responding to emails and working out of hours.

Seventy-three per cent said bosses should slash admin requirements, 68 per cent wanted better communication and 57 per cent called for a focus on improving student behaviour.

Anything from the trolley?

Springwest provides free tea and coffee in the staffroom, served by a member of catering staff, at a cost of £737 a year. It runs a tea trolley service twice a term, which costs £660 a year.

“That one initiative is more popular, I think, than the Friday half-day. It’s madness.”

A daily breakfast club, free for staff and pupils, from Monday to Thursday cost the school about £20,000 from September 2023 to April 2024.

Hart says the “concept of servant leadership” underpins his approach.

He spent a “long time trying to help the senior leaders understand that really their only job is to make the conditions such that staff can be the best versions of themselves”.

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