To survey or not? (part 3)


To survey or not? (part 3)

7 Jan ’20 Leadership 0

In part 1 of “To Survey or not”, Bruce Greig, (entrepreneur and school governor), and I presented the case of whole school surveys with Tony Sheppard offering his expert opinion of Data Protection. Part 2 looked at the key question of anonymity. Here, in Part 3 Bruce shares his perspective and experienced from his work over at What follows is a guest post from Bruce.

Kristian is right. The best schools shouldn’t need an anonymous staff survey. Your school should already have a collaborative, open culture which values professional dialogue and self-reflection. You don’t need a survey. Everyone, including you as the leader, seeks to know their own strengths and weaknesses. Staff meetings are reminiscent of a Bletchley Park tea break – intense, stimulating discussions where everyone shares their experience of best practice, and their brushes with disaster.

What? Is that not quite how it works at your school?

You are not alone.

Most teachers in England think the process for professional feedback in their school is basically a waste of time:

Source: OECD TALIS data, 2013

Are you surprised by that? I was astonished. I believe that the primary job of an organisation’s leader is to help their people grow and prosper. Kaizen, continuous improvement and all that jazz. If less than half your teachers, or teachers in less than half the nation’s schools, think that feedback and appraisal is valuable, then something’s really not right.

What do people think in other walks of life? Are teachers typical here? Let’s compare with some Government departments, who publish annual People Survey results. And let’s focus on this question:

“The feedback I receive helps me to improve my performance”

Around 75% of civil servants in the DVLA, Ofsted and the Legal Aid Agency say that feedback helps them improve their performance.

And in the vast majority of other Government departments, well over half of employees say the same thing. Only the Scottish Prison Service, Registers Scotland and the Defence Electronics and Components Agency (whoever they are) have significantly fewer than 50% of people saying they value the feedback they receive. Teachers in the TALIS survey are right down there with the worst government departments on this measure.

Read the TALIS question again: “Appraisal and feedback are largely done to fulfill administrative requirements”. 51% of teachers think that their appraisal is a mere box-ticking exercise.

That’s not the world of collaborative, professional dialogue which we are striving for in our schools.

Until you run an anonymous survey, you probably can’t really be sure whether or not your teachers are in the half that thinks feedback and appraisal is a waste of time. Nor can you be completely sure what they really think about anything else you might ask in a survey.

Anonymous surveys are a bit like secret ballots. Most of the time, you don’t need the anonymity. But the few times you do need it, teachers will be glad that it is already part of the routine and not something they have to awkwardly request. In our governing body, we always use a secret ballot when electing officers. Most of the time, we don’t really need to. People can comfortably speak freely about who they think should chair such-and-such committee. But the secret ballot is there for the time when people don’t feel comfortable. In that uncomfortable moment, it is hard to ask for a secret ballot. So we use secret ballots all the time.

Of course, if you run a survey like this and find, to your horror, that half your teachers don’t value your feedback and appraisal system, what next? Doing a survey of course doesn’t magically create that culture of open and professional dialogue I talked about earlier. It isn’t even the foundation of such a culture. But it is perhaps the first little brick in a long building project.

Your survey might tease out a little bit of information about this. It might tell you that feedback isn’t regular enough. Or that there’s an issue dealing with poor performance. But, really, it gives you a reason to talk about these issues. Or whatever other issue your survey suggests needs some work.

And then you can start the hard work: building the culture where everyone does receive valuable feedback, from their peers and their leaders. And they offer insightful feedback in return. Which everyone values and uses and builds on. And where you don’t need an anonymous survey to find out what’s going on in your school.

I’ve occasionally described the mission of School Staff Surveys as being to get every school running a regular, standardised staff wellbeing survey. But maybe I should up my game: should my objective be for every school to reach the point where they no longer need to run an anonymised survey?

My thanks to Bruce for his conversation and insight. It was both challenging and assuring, and I hope, useful to those school leaders considering surveying their staff body.


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