Talking Heads – It’s About More than the Fluffies

This week’s Talking Heads comes from Headteacher Cathy Westgate, Hudson Road Primary School writing about how she implemented a Staff Wellbeing Team (SWT) with the help of SWT researcher and education consultant, Dr Jane Anderson.

Staff Wellbeing Teams (SWTs) have an immediate impact by increasing staff wellbeing and supporting schools to become happier, healthier places – so what’s not to like? According to schools that implement a SWT, there is everything to gain. Why then aren’t more schools getting on board? Especially as SWT’s support Ofsted’s criteria for staff safeguarding and duty of care and encourage the engagement of the entire staff.

Sometimes it’s fear of getting it wrong and making the wellbeing situation in school worse rather than better. This is understandable. Wellbeing in any setting needs to be carefully nuanced to enable it to work to everyone’s benefit. Improperly implemented wellbeing initiatives can lead to all sorts of unwanted consequences, from projecting the wrong messages to inciting different (i.e. worse) behaviour. None of this is intended of course but it can be the result of rushed thinking and rash intervention in order to ‘make wellbeing happen’ in schools where wellbeing has become yet another ‘got to have’, just one more thing to worry about.

Occasionally it’s simply apathy that prevents schools from taking the SWT step, or concern that it’s going to generate more work for someone other than the actual SWT itself, although research is showing that the opposite happens. In fact the SWT often subsumes many undealt-with wellbeing issues in school (often the reluctant and half-hearted remit of others) and addresses them with gusto. And they do this voluntarily. Furthermore, they will identify other areas where they can be practically effective and deal with these too.

Obviously, they do this in conjunction with the School Leadership Team but the leeway they have to get on and sort things out on their own, as a representative team, is part of the attraction to the people who sign up for the SWT. On their part this demonstrates both role ownership and distributed leadership, both Ofsted emphasis’, but perhaps more importantly simply shows a good sense approach to the sharing of staff wellbeing management around school.

We decided a Staff Wellbeing Team could be right for us at Hudson Road Primary School after noticing a lot of wellbeing issues were falling between two stools. Odd things like organising a much-needed extra water boiler for our small staffroom and large staff. Lack of hot water for hot drinks caused regular angst at breaktimes and while everyone meant to do something about it, nothing ever got done. As soon as the SWT was up and running, a boiler was bought, plumbed and delivering copious hot water before we’d had time to discuss it. People still can’t stop smiling. A quick win perhaps, but a significant and deeply appreciated one. Quick wins, AKA ‘fluffies’, are often more effective than they would appear. But there’s more to our SWT than procurement and light touch wellbeing gestures. Together they are distilling our staff-created school values for dissemination and prominent display around the entire school and are working on a School Staff Wellbeing Policy.

As Dr Jane Anderson, researcher into school Staff Wellbeing Teams and school values, and the expert we turned to for help in creating our own SWT points out,

‘Everyone who employs people wants them to be as well as they can be. Happy, healthy staff are an asset. They want to come to work, apply themselves while they’re there, enjoy being part of the staff team and, importantly, stay with you – they don’t want to go somewhere else where they might not be as valued.’

That’s what we want in our school, we told her; increased discretionary energy, reduced sickness absenteeism, high staff retention rates and happy people. We weren’t in a bad state before, but the SWT has made a discernible improvement. But implementing any kind of staff wellbeing demands a sure hand and we were keen to ensure that we got such an important intervention right from the start. We worked with Jane to create our SWT using her straightforward How to Create and Sustain a Staff Wellbeing Team framework. While this is quickly implemented, it does need the backing and on-going commitment of the School Leadership Team, something Jane is adamant about. The SWT needs to be seen to be recognised and respected for the force for good that it is in school.

Although the organisation of the SWT appears quite structured, the Team has unusual flex, responding promptly to both staff and leadership identified wellbeing issues. The SWT feeds back regularly to all stakeholders too, so everyone knows what’s going on. Of course, some wellbeing matters are more problematic than others, but the Team is active in offering support where it can. Wellbeing areas of high expense are recognised and categorised as possible future investment; a staffroom makeover for instance might fall into this category, but the SWT has a small budget of their own which they manage frugally and very innovatively.

Interestingly, the SWT can be a boon to the headteacher. Much of my work has to do with ensuring the continuing wellbeing of school staff. The SWT helps with this in ways of which they are probably not aware. I see a SWT representative once a month and we share and discuss school staff wellbeing issues and proposals. This brief meeting is beneficial on both sides. Jane corroborates this, her findings showing that this is the case in most schools where SWT’s have been created. She also points out that the headteacher is a member of staff as well as the school leader and their wellbeing should be acknowledged alongside that of the staff as a whole.

To date the SWT has made a tangible difference in our school. Jane visits intermediately to support our staff wellbeing work in other ways, but the SWT stands on its own feet now, bespoke to our school’s needs, representative of our hopes and still as keen as mustard to make a difference to staff wellbeing.

Dr Jane Anderson specialises in school staff wellbeing has worked in education, training and development for over 30 years. Cathy Westgate has been a primary headteacher for over 20 years.

Schools North East’s Healthy MindED conference is on 3rd May and is focused on mental health and wellbeing in schools. Book your place now.

If you would like to share your views on this, or would like to write a Talking Heads blog post, please email 


EPI reports ‘disturbing’ number of unexplained pupil exits

It has been revealed that 19,000 pupils left the state school system without explanation between January 2016 and January 2017, according to a new report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI).

The publication, “Unexplained Pupils Exits from Schools: A Growing Problem?”, analysed three data sets (2006-11 cohort, 2009-14 cohort and 2012-17 cohort) in order to understand which groups of pupils are most likely to leave school without explanation.

The report found that 330 schools – just 6% of secondary and special schools overall – were responsible for 23% of unexplained exits from the state sector. Each of these schools had seen at least 30 pupils leave without explanation between 2011 and 2017.

SEND students accounted for over half of the 19,000 pupils with unexplained exits in 2016/17 and pupils in receipt of free school meals (FSM) were also over-represented within this group.

David Laws, EPI Executive Chairman, said the “size of unexplained pupil moves is disturbing”.

The analysis of the cohort data excludes pupils who leave school with explanation, such as those who are permanently excluded or for family reasons, such as when a parent is in the military.

The report found that the 2006-11 cohort had 47,225 pupils whose absences were unexplained, while the 2009-14 cohort had 49,051. While the overall total was higher it actually reflects a slight decrease in percentage terms from 7.8% to 7.2% due to the number of pupils in the cohorts .

However, the percentage increased to 8.1% among the 2011-17 cohort, with a total of 55,309 pupils who had exited mainstream schooling without explanation.

The report suggested that pupils with a high number of authorised absences were more likely than any other group to have unexplained exits. The number was also high among pupils who had been in contact with the care system, as well as those who had a history of exclusion (either permanent or for a fixed period).

However, deprivation was not a major driver in the report’s findings. Schools with the highest number of pupils in deprivation were not those which had the most unexplained exits: this was attributed to schools within the middle of the disadvantage distribution.

It also highlighted that some other factors, such as sex and the time of year a pupil is born, do not appear to have any bearing on whether or not they leave school without explanation.

A full copy of the report is available from the Education Policy Institute. The report also invites feedback. Consultation questions and contact information can be found at the end of the report. Responses to the consultation are due back, by email, before the 18th May deadline.

Education Links w/c 22nd April – Chronicle Live, North of Tyne leaders unveil bold mission to make every school good or outstanding. – Darlington & Stockton Times, New head for Bedale High. – The Northern Echo, Stockton Headteacher ‘petrified’ about on-going funding shortage. – Berwick Advertiser, Action plan drawn up following inspection at Berwickshire High School. – Chronicle Live, Log cabin given the go-ahead at Northumberland forest school. – Darlington & Stockton Times, Narrowing curriculum putting education of generation pupils at risk: experts. – The Northern Echo, Schools’ crisis: County Durham school employing teachers on cost rather than quality. – The Northern Echo, Schools’ crisis: Darlington school relying on fundraising from parents to ‘plug the leaking roof’. – The Northern Echo, Schools crisis: ‘Enough is enough, the cuts must stop’ – Redcar MP Anna Turley. – The Northern Echo, ‘Major gas leak’ leads to closure of Bishop Barrington School.

Schools Minister acknowledges budget cuts

The school funding crisis was the topic of enquiry at the Education Select Committee this week with ministers Nick Gibb and Anne Milton giving evidence.

Chairman Robert Halfon asked Gibb to comment on the current state of schools funding in England. The Schools Minister stated that the government had put record levels of funding into schools, but that the number of pupils is increasing.

While Gibb urged the committee to take into account the wider economic context of the 2008 financial crash in its forthcoming report on school funding, he did admit that the IFS figures showing a real-terms cut to school funding were correct.

Halfon asked the DfE ministers why education does not have a 5 year funding plan or a 10 year strategic plan, like the Department of Health and Social Care has for the NHS.

Both ministers agreed that a long-term strategic plan for education would be welcomed, but Halfon said that they needed to make a public case for it, as Jeremy Hunt and Matt Hancock have done at Health.

Milton, a former Health minister, said that the Department of Health did not just publicly call for a 10 year plan out of the blue, but that they discussed the matter privately before seeking public support.

Gibb added that he is about to begin negotiations with the Treasury ahead of the next spending review, but that he is competing with similar demands from the Health Secretary and the Home Secretary, who wants more police funding. Gibb also said that Jeremy Hunt – as Health Secretary – had support from NHS England when he lobbied the government for more support.

Asked why he has not been successful in getting more money for schools in the past, Gibb argued that he has – citing the fact that the schools budget (alongside health and international development spending) was ring-fenced in 2010. The cuts to schools’ budgets was largely down to cuts to the Local Authority budgets, which are beyond his Department’s control.

Schools North East has launched a campaign to call on the Government to #FundOurFuture. We need your support to make this work, please visit to create a banknote which we will send to 10 Downing St, and to download a pack for your school.

Education Links w/c 1st April – Chronicle Live, School classroom extension approved amid huge influx of new pupils. – Chronicle Live, Primary school rated ‘inadequate’ because teachers didn’t understand how children learn to read. – Chronicle Live, ‘Outstanding’ South Tyneside schools beat national average. – Chronicle Live, ‘Boisterous and unruly’ behaviour and ‘weak’ teaching uncovered at science college. – Darlington & Stockton Times, Hate Hurts teaches Darlington pupils difference is good. – Darlington & Stockton Times, The school where children do yoga, colouring sessions and mindfulness classes to help cope with modern life. – Darlington & Stockton Times, Darlington students learn how to look after themselves. – The Northern Echo, Richmond School plan branded ‘ridiculous’. – The Northern Echo, Darlington and Middlesbrough academy trusts to merge. – Shields Gazette, School exclusions double in South Tyneside in six years. – Shields Gazette, Private school fees: how much does it cost to send your child to an independent school in the North East. – Sunderland Echo, Sunderland schoolchildren see prestigious rugby trophies at sports games final. – Sunderland Echo, Sunderland Council backs plans to sell education buildings to autism charity. – Sunderland Echo, Sunderland’s Monkwearmouth Academy apologises to parents and students after inadequate Ofsted inspection sees it put into special measures.

SEND funding cut by 17% in three years, IPPR warns

Leading think tank IPPR North has warned that funding for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, across England, has fallen 17% since 2015.

However, the north has been hit even harder, falling by over a fifth in the same period. This makes the north the worst affected region in the country.

Jack Hunter, from IPPR North said: “Cuts to overall education budgets have left many without the support they need, particularly in the north, and have driven up demand for intensive SEND provision.

“This is a moral failure but it is also a failure to recognise the economic benefits of upfront investment in young people’s futures.”

You can find more information at Schools Week

Schools North East is calling on the Government to #FundOurFuture by investing in our children’s education. Join us by visiting to create your own banknote which we will send to 10 Downing St. Then help us spread the word by sharing with #fundourfuture and @FundOurFutureED on social media.

Wilshaw cites Middlesbrough exclusions in knife crime debate

A panel of experts has clashed over whether or not school exclusions drive up knife crime during a sitting of the House of Commons Education Selection Committee this week.

One expert, Will Linden, the Deputy Director of Violence Reduction Unit Scotland, stated that exclusion from school is the biggest driver of criminal activity among young people. Following this Carlie Thomas, a Senior Caseworker at St Giles Trust, added that – in her experience – excluding students from school can lead to an increased risk of those students being groomed by gang leaders.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, former Chief Inspector of Schools in England claimed that the Local Authority area with the highest number of exclusions is Middlesbrough, with Redcar and Cleveland also in the top ten. While Wilshaw repeated his view that secondary schools in the north needed to improve, he highlighted that there was no correlation between high rates of exclusion and knife crime in places like Middlesbrough.

However Linden argued that the issue of violence – from bullying to knife crime – has the same drivers in London and the North East, and that the quality of schooling was not an influencing factor.

For every 100,000 people in the North East, there were around 40 knife offences in 2017-18, compared to 168 offences for every 100,000 people in London.

Meanwhile, Gateshead MP Ian Mearns asked the panel what they wanted to see police doing in schools. The experts, including Assistant Commissioner Simmons, agreed that schools and police forces need to develop better relationships. Wilshaw expressed criticism of the police, stating that Police Community Support Officers change too frequently. He said that the police needed to develop long-term relationships with schools.

Thomas also emphasised that schools need to develop relationships with families. She reported that some parents discover their children are involved in gangs and possess knives, but do not report this to schools or the police because they fear it will lead to them being taken away from the family.

When focusing on how to challenge the crisis Linden claimed more money was not necessarily the solution. Instead, he suggested that system changes and cultural and attitudinal shifts were more important. In his view, too many services – including the police and social services – operate in isolation and were working on pursuing their own targets, rather than working together to put the needs of the child first.

Thomas agreed that a culture shift was needed. She suggested that Pupil Referral Units should not be referred to as “PRUs”, but that a PRU’s students should be allowed to name it and develop its sense of identity.

Wilshaw had a different view, however, suggesting that “deeply troubled” students with mental health issues needed early intervention – rather than exclusion – but stated that the reduction in school budgets made this harder to deliver. There was, he said, “undoubtedly a connection” between reduced funding and increased exclusions in some schools.

The committee will take the expert views under consideration for a report to be published about the inquiry.

New report on impact of education technology

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published a new guidance report on the use of digital technology in schools.

The report analyses the effectiveness of education technology which schools currently spend an estimated £900m on each year.

The guidance report, Using Digital Technology to Improve Learning, backs up previous studies that found that technology itself is unlikely to improve young people’s learning, but the pedagogy behind it can.

The EEF reviewed the best available evidence, including from a number of EEF trials, then convened a panel of teachers, academics, and other experts to draw out four clear and actionable recommendations which schools can put into effect.

Sir Kevan Collins, EEF Chief Executive, said: “Put simply, this means buying a tablet computer for every pupil is unlikely to boost pupil attainment. Unless you have a clear idea of the difference you want technology to make, it probably won’t make any difference at all. However, if those tablets are used purposefully – for example, increasing the quality or quantity of practice pupils undertake through a quiz app, or the precision with which feedback on misunderstandings is provided – they stand a much better chance of doing so.
“Such improvements are not automatic. Using digital technology requires thoughtful implementation; upfront training and follow-on supporting activities for the teachers who will have to apply it in the busy reality of their classrooms; and proper evaluation to establish whether the new initiative has improved learning by making it more efficient, effective or secure.”
You can read/download the guidance report here.

#FundOurFuture – national funding campaign launched

Schools North East has launched a national funding campaign on behalf of schools in the North East and beyond who have been hit by the funding crisis in education.

The campaign calls on the Prime Minister to #FundOurFuture, by asking people to create a banknote with a photo or drawing of their child on it, which we will send to No 10 Downing St. This literally puts our children at the centre of the picture and will show the Government the public support for investing in our children’s futures.

Over the last eight years, school funding in England has fallen in real terms by 8%, this is equivalent to an average of £500 every student is missing out on each year.

Director Mike Parker spoke to ITV Tyne Tees to launch the campaign.

Mike Parker said: “Put simply, young people are the future of our country, so it’s crucial that we give them the best chance to succeed from an early age. Funding cuts are affecting schools across the country, forcing them to remove important provisions, make staff redundant and reduce the levels of care and support each child receives.

Some have even had to turn to parents, asking for donations to help provide the level of support and facilities children deserve. We want to draw attention to the gravity of this situation and demonstrate to Theresa May that we care about our children’s future. If you’re able to take five minutes to create, submit and share a personalised banknote, we can put pressure on the Government to #FundOurFuture.”

Students from Framwellgate School Durham launching the Schools North East #FundOurFuture campaign, calling for Government to commit to plugging the £4.2 billion funding gap.

We need your support for this campaign to succeed. Please take a minute to visit the #FundOurFuture Website create your banknote, then share it online with the hashtag #FundOurFuture and tag us @FundOurFutureED.

The success of the campaign relies on schools getting behind it and encouraging parents to send the Prime Minister a clear message. To get involved, download a Resource Pack from the website

We welcome any case studies from schools wishing to share their stories of funding cuts. We will keep names anonymous where requested. Please email with any stories.

Education Links w/c 25th March – Chronicle Live, Ofsted inspectors’ stark warning to faith primary school which refused to acknowledge LGBT issues. – Darlington & Stockton Times, Darlington primary head proud to secure top wellbeing award. – The Northern Echo, Schools compete at police charity football tournament in aid of the Bradley Lowery Foundation. – The Northern Echo, Children sign to sing for Darlington’s deaf community. – The Northern Echo, Darlington pupils take home gold in outdoors challenge. – The Northern Echo, Young Darlington minds broadened with future careers event. – Shields Gazette, South Tyneside children’s home rated outstanding by Ofsted. – Shields Gazette, The poem by South Shields schoolchildren which wowed judging panel including Olly Murs and Rio Ferdinand. – Sunderland Echo, Plans to merge two schools with falling pupil numbers set to be discussed by councillors at meeting. – Sunderland Echo, Mystery over why Sunderland school’s exam results have been annulled. – Morpeth Herald, Delight at school’s new classrooms.  – Berwick Advertiser, Funding to improve careers advice at Berwick Academy. – Berwick Advertiser, Northumberland College has a new principal.