The impact of leadership on staff engagement: insights from a national pilot

In the current education landscape it's easy to feel somewhat powerless as a leader, with so much happening that is outside of a school's control. Pay negotiations are taking place behind closed doors, price inflation is derailing carefully balanced budgets and shifts in attitudes to work post-pandemic, are having a knock-on impact in every sector.

It’s not an overstatement to say that teacher recruitment and retention in our schools is now reaching crisis point, with over 40,000 teachers leaving the profession in 2022 and the majority of subject recruitment targets set to be missed for this Autumn. Building a stable and sustainable workforce has understandably become a priority for every school and Trust and it is what has motivated us as we have been developing The Engagement Platform (TEP).

In the face of recruitment and retention headwinds, we have been working hard over the last 18 months to develop and pilot a new approach to teacher and staff engagement. Based on the growing body of academic literature that links staff engagement to pupil outcomes and staff retention, TEP is being designed to enable schools to easily understand, compare and take action on robust engagement measures. 

During the pilot period we have been developing the TEP methodology with academics and co-designing the shape of the digital platform with school partners. The TEP question set is fixed, exploring headline engagement and underlying engagement drivers. Data is collected in census windows throughout the year, with live benchmarks created in each window, giving leaders the confidence they are comparing like for like. The digital platform, which will go live in the Autumn, will automate data collection, enable data exploration and analysis, allow leaders to reply to anonymous comments and download sharable reports. You can find out more about TEP on our website. 

This Autumn we will share our pilot findings in full, as we launch the digital platform and open up to new school partners in the Foundation phase of the project.

The pilot has been fascinating. With more than 7,000 teacher and school staff responses collected from over 100 schools over this last year, we have already built a substantial national dataset that is supporting leaders to make more effective, data led decisions. This will be the first in a series of blogs that begins to explore some of the emerging themes from the data, as we build TEP with the system, for the system. We wanted to start with leadership.

Theme one - Leadership matters 

Leadership and management is most strongly associated with high headline engagement. 

It might not come as a surprise to hear that schools that score high above the national and trust benchmarks for leadership and management, are very likely to have overall strong headline engagement from their teams. But what has been really interesting to see is that this sits above certain drivers we would expect to dominate the headline results within the current environment - such as workload, recognition and reward and resources and physical environment. Of course TEP strongly supports the need for higher funding and pay in the sector, but it is both interesting and encouraging to see that despite the challenging externalities, there are important levers available for leaders to use now to increase the engagement of their teams. 

From my own time in the classroom this finding particularly resonates. I know that my leaders, for better and worse, often had the biggest impact on my experience. They didn't always realise it, but they had the power to change the tone of conversations in the staff room, and how I felt about my job over the weekend. Effective support from a manager after a tough day meant the world to me. While under resourcing, less than adequate pay and challenging behaviour affected my engagement - It was always less of an issue than poor, inconsistent leadership. 

TEP’s Leadership and Management driver questions cover leadership strategy and implementation, communication quality and team and individual management. So pilot schools have been able to examine the scores across these questions to look at specific areas they can improve on compared to the benchmarks, and look at how this varies across different groups. Building on baseline leadership scores is likely to improve overall engagement significantly and therefore have a positive impact on retention of talent, building positive school cultures and ultimately improving pupil outcomes. 

The Leadership and Management driver was closely followed by Wellbeing, Growth, development and retention, Diversity and Inclusion and Classroom behaviour, which were also highly correlated with overall engagement. All of these drivers have questions that cross-load with leadership and therefore can provide additional insight to leaders looking to direct their time to a specific area of strategy or targeted support for their teams. 

This is just one theme in a range of rich insights we are gleaning from TEP, which is already helping to shape action-planning at the classroom, school and Trust level.  If you are interested in seeing this kind of data for your school, we’d love to talk to you about joining our cohort of founding partners for the Autumn. 

Interested in seeing this data for your school? Become a founding partner. 

TEP is looking for schools and trusts to become Foundation partners in 2023-24 - we would love for you to join us. As a founding partner you’ll get first access to the digital platform and gain an understanding of teacher engagement in your own school. You will be part of the TEP school community, accessing best practice case studies based on TEP data, national data insights and research papers from the TEP research unit and the opportunity to shape the platform to best serve education leaders. 

Interested in hearing more about our initial findings?

On Thursday 6th July at 2.45pm, TEP Director Steph Hamilton will be joining the Festival of Education to delve deeper into the pilot data findings, examining the evidence behind measuring teacher engagement effectively and how it shaped the methodology of TEP. There will also be an opportunity for leaders to learn more about how they might use this data to shape their strategic thinking.

You can register for the event here

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