How can trust leaders continue to effectively engage with staff and wider stakeholders to thrive in the current climate?
We explore how trust leaders can further engage with stakeholders and foster unity within the constraints of funding and government guidance.
"Leadership is the ability to facilitate movement in the needed direction, and have people feel good about it", says Tom Smith from Culture Partners. The current public sector pay debates and industrial action across a range of sectors show that many people are seeking pay and conditions that take account of increased cost pressures and increased workloads. But this is not the complete picture. We know that when it comes to workplaces, as important as fair pay and conditions are, people need much more alongside. They want to feel valued, recognised and to feel that they contribute significantly to the sector and organisation they work within. They also want to feel communicated with and that they have an avenue through which they can be heard too. These aspects have been highlighted all the more as we see the growing challenges in recruiting, engaging and retaining good employees. Being clear on the trust’s role and its decision making powers (and constraints), including legal considerations, can be a helpful tool in communications and in shaping discussions around potential solutions and support on offer.
The cost of living crisis is undoubtedly impacting academy trusts, their staff and communities and creating a challenging environment. Options such as remote working and flexible schedules, which may be readily available in other organisations, can often be difficult to provide to the same extent in academy trusts – the lights have to stay on, the staff have to work from the schools the vast majority of the time, and the education of young people must come first. Working with a range of stakeholders (including students, parents and carers, staff, unions, the Department for Education and the Education and Skills Funding Agency) means diverse opinions, and requires trust leaders and trustees to make difficult decisions under pressure which are unlikely to please everyone. Keeping all stakeholders engaged and giving a transparent, realistic view of the trust’s circumstances and potential ways forward, will help those stakeholders to understand why a decision has been made and any next steps. Sometimes a trust may have to say “no” – perhaps to something which does not fall within their objects, or which they are not permitted to do, or where there simply aren’t the funds available. Matters which might fall for consideration in this category include the trust being asked to carry out additional activities, or to provide wider welfare services for the community.
Telling a powerful story about the trust’s activities (for example, in the annual report and accounts, in newsletters to parents, and in website and social media posts) can engage those who might otherwise be dismissive or unaware of the bigger picture. Keeping clear, open, and regular lines of communication between all stakeholders is vital to a cohesive, collegiate and community-focused trust. This includes communication between senior leaders and staff, staff and parents, the trust and its students, as well as between senior leaders and trustees. For example, senior leaders have operational responsibility and understand intimately the strengths, needs and challenges of their trust on a day-to-day basis, whilst trustees know that they carry ultimate responsibility and have the strategic oversight of the trust’s direction. Regular updates from all sides can help to weather any storms, and give both senior leaders and trustees a sounding board and a supportive ear.
Aside from clear communication, there are various ways in which trusts can seek to engage, and retain, staff. For example, salary sacrifice schemes can provide a benefit to staff with limited additional cost to the trust. Cycle to work and electric vehicle schemes have the added bonus of demonstrating a trust’s environmental commitment. Continuing to trial and champion innovative, flexible ways of working to pool resources, streamline labour-intensive admin and reduce workload can also benefit both the trust and teaching staff. Ensuring that each member of teaching staff has properly allocated directed time and protected PPA time should assist with individual work-life balance, but should also enable the trust to plan better for contingencies and to utilise available staff on payroll rather than incur the expense of supply staff, which trusts are finding hard and increasingly costly to secure.
That said, issues surrounding pay cannot be ignored. A number of trusts have already sought accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation and pay the ‘Real Living Wage’ to staff across all areas of the trust. It is possible for trusts to pay the Real Living Wage and still operate within nationally agreed pay scales. There is a financial cost, to be considered alongside the trust’s ethos and values.
The Real Living Wage is independently calculated based on the cost of living rather than adhering to the (lower) government-set minimum wage. New rates were set in September 2022 for implementation by 14 May 2023, as confirmed by the Living Wage Foundation. For trusts who are already accredited, they will need to review their existing pay structure and identify whether any changes are required, and for trusts considering accreditation they will need to consider whether a pay increase makes accreditation a viable prospect when balanced with the challenge of retaining staff. A Living Wage accreditation also takes into account regularly contracted staff in addition to directly employed staff, which offers an opportunity for trusts to assess partners and organisations they work with regularly and ensure that such organisations fit with the trust’s ethos and values.
When considering staff payments, trust leaders also need to be aware of the pay gap reporting requirements. Gender pay gap reporting has been in place for some time and trusts with over 250 employees should already be reporting. The report not only indicates where there may be inequalities in the trust (and therefore potential disgruntlement among staff), but can be used to open the discussion regarding salaries. Trust leaders should also be aware of the possibility of mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting being introduced. There is no requirement to report as yet although consultations have been undertaken and a trust may choose to report (or make its own, alternative assessment) voluntarily. The disability pay gap has also been discussed as a potential future area of focus.
The staffing landscape in the sector is fast-changing and potentially precarious. Industrial action and staff discontent has the potential to lead to a long-term “us and them” mentality, which can be a challenge when all need to come together to deliver the educational purpose of the trust and to deliver in the best interests of the children they serve. However, trust leaders can seize this opportunity to review their communications and interactions with staff and other stakeholders. Working on staff re-engagement and fostering unity of purpose and direction, can help trusts to better weather the current and future storms.
You can also keep up to date by following Wrigleys Education on Twitter.
The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature. The law stated is correct at the date (stated above) this article was first posted to our website. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors.
This article was originally published as part of a paid for partnership with Forum Strategy.