Vinny Wagjiani, Chair of Governors, Leechpool Primary School, West Sussex
Leechpool Primary School is a community primary school with around 400 pupils, located on the outskirts of Horsham. We ensure pupils, families, staff and governors embrace values including: 1) Reflection, 2) Resourcefulness, 3) Relationships, 4) Responsibility, 5) Risk-Taking and 6) Resilience. Leechpool School’s best practice was showcased in the 2019 -2020 Parliamentary Review.
Wellbeing has to include the Headteacher
The governing body is careful to ensure the Headteacher looks after her wellbeing. In fact, we even persuaded her to take time off! While she’s focused on the relentless pursuit of educational excellence for her pupils, we support her to manage a healthy work/life balance. All the governors have such a good relationship with the Headteacher. She knows she’s welcome to pick up the phone and speak to me or other governors, sharing her concerns and using our time to solve problems.
Building good relationships for success
Our role as governors at Leechpool is made much easier and more effective because there is a very healthy relationship between the governing body and the senior leadership team and, in turn, the senior leadership and teaching teams. The school community is viewed so positively that we receive a very high number of excellent applications in response to our job adverts. It’s a priority for us to build and maintain these strong relationships – a key factor in determining how successful a governing body will be in supporting school improvement.
I would encourage all governors to help develop those open and honest relationships by leaning into vulnerability. If you are open with others, you’ll invite them to be open with you. In turn, you’ll help create an environment in which senior leaders are transparent about their worries and concerns, allowing governors to respond to their wellbeing needs. For maximum efficacy, you’ll need everyone to buy into this ethos. The more people you can engage in the problem-solving process, the more likely you are to promptly find the most appropriate response. It takes time and real commitment from everyone involved to make the process work, but your effort will pay dividends in facilitating direct and authentic conversations. Our governing body meetings are generally very honest and open, an ethos the Headteacher also advocates within her senior leader meetings.
During every board meeting, we create a highlight report to show staff and parents what we’ve discussed, help them understand the challenges the school faces, and demonstrate how we’re dealing with problems. As governors, we want people to know who we are, what we do, and that we’re investing in making the school better. At the same time, we try to bust the myth that governing bodies are mysterious or intimidating.
We appreciate that encouraging people to turn their passion into action helps them feel valued and satisfied, raises their happiness hormones, and improves their wellbeing. As such, we’re always on the lookout for opportunities to recognise the effort and achievement of school staff wherever possible.
We pay careful attention to the implications of the policies we introduce. Outside of statutory policies, we try not to overburden staff with unnecessary rules, empowering them with the autonomy they need to implement decisions. We offer clear guidelines and frameworks to help staff navigate their roles. However, we want to build trust by giving staff the authority they need to do their best work while meeting compliance requirements, such as deadlines. When things don’t always go according to plan in the school, the Headteacher will address the problem by organising a conversation to unpick what happened and provide professional development support. They will not rush into introducing a new policy – an approach governors fully support.
Succession planning with staff
The senior leadership team are implementing a coaching leadership style of leadership for the teaching team. My ambition is to help the Headteacher translate what they’ve learned from this strategy to help staff coach pupils too. In other words, staff will coach pupils to question and challenge themselves more effectively – a new strategy that suits our holistic curriculum and promotes independent thinking.
Coaching doesn’t just apply to the pupils. Governors support the Headteacher by hiring her a personal coach. In turn, she coaches the phase leaders and they coach their teachers. Coaching is such an important part of succession planning, helping us proactively identify and nurture our staff members’ talents and look for opportunities to improve workforce diversity.
Don’t overlook the little things
To those governing bodies considering how they can improve wellbeing in the school community, I’d emphasise that people often focus too heavily on the big issues. Little improvements really add up and can make a significant difference to pupils and staff.
Discover more about promoting wellbeing in schools
Keen to learn more about how governors can enhance wellbeing provisions in schools? We’re hosting a webinar about the key findings from our 2022 Wellbeing Report at the Governors for Schools Conference 2022. Sign up for key takeaways to improve the efficacy of your board.