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Case studies:

A new approach to employee engagement at Stamford Endowed Schools

Stamford Endowed Schools

stamford endowed schools, People Insight
Influencing their future direction
“The outputs of our staff engagement surveys have given us so much more than a one dimensional data set. As well as the importance of knowing how our staff are feeling about their working life at Stamford, the results are influencing our strategic direction at many levels including our workforce, digital and IT, internal communications plans and our approach to the development of our diversity and inclusion commitment.”

Will Phelan, Principal, Stamford Endowed Schools

The challenge

The Stamford Endowed Schools (SES) are based in Stamford, Lincolnshire named by the Sunday Times as the ‘Best Place to live in the Midlands’. The independent schools group is made up of the Stamford Nursery School, Stamford Junior School, Stamford High School (girls) and Stamford School (boys) with a co-educational sixth form. Dating back to the 16th century, to this day it provides an environment where learning is regarded as key to unlocking all of life’s possibilities.

The Schools are a close community. Their 550 staff enjoy a supportive team environment with great colleagues amongst the teaching support, operations and professional services teams. Kay Rainsby, HR Director, has led the HR team at the Schools since 2013.

Our vision

This case study examines:


  • How Stamford Endowed Schools (SES) use staff surveys to measure their ‘One Team’ approach.

  • How SES took a more action-oriented approach to staff surveys with People Insight.

  • How SES have seen significant increases across all of their employee engagement metrics and is building a ‘Great Place to Be’.

Employee engagement in the school sector

Kay believes in the principles of good employee engagement and all of the positive benefits that brings to everyone. She feels very fortunate to be working in HR in the independent sector with a forward thinking management team who like her view their people as their biggest asset “It’s a great time to be in HR in a school like Stamford,” said Kay. “We’ve seen a real leap forward in the professionalism of HR in the independent school sector in recent years. Our people are our biggest investment, and we all benefit when they are engaged in their working life.

“Staff engagement is more than just doing a survey and ticking a box. You need to work with your leadership team, have an embedded strategy, and the process has to be engaging with great communications and clear actions. You need to listen, act, then listen again. It’s an ongoing cycle. Finally, you need the right partner that fits with your organisation and brings you the data and insight you need.”

Happy staff, happy workplace
“Understanding how staff feel about working here is important to us. We need to continuously audit areas of progress against ‘Great Place to Be’ and identify where further focus is needed. After all, happy and engaged staff mean happy and engaged pupils!”

Kay Rainsby, HR director

Stamford
Endowed Schools: A Great Place to Be

A key strategic objective set by the Schools Executive Team (SET) is for the Schools to be a ‘Great Place to Be’ for staff (considering recruitment, engagement and talent retention objectives,) and for pupils.

As part of this objective, there are a range of initiatives designed to encourage a ‘One Team’ approach, uniting staff in very different roles across schools and functions. This includes events and projects including teaching staff across the schools, operational and professional services employees (including professions such as finance, IT, Marketing and HR.)

In order to measure progress against the objective, Kay knew it was critical to be able to get honest feedback across all employees.

Kay set some important aims for employee feedback:

  • Staff feel they are listened to without setting unrealistic expectations that can’t be met.
  • Staff know we are committed to making changes where these are achievable.
  • Ultimately, staff feel positive and engaged with the School and its aims. Meeting employees’ personal aspirations providing quality education to our pupils.
More participative approach
“Our previous staff surveys had a low profile, generally low response rates and actions weren’t widely evidenced. As a result, I felt we needed a more effective, participative, dynamic approach which set a very different scene and expectation. That’s why I chose People Insight as a survey partner, as I felt their flexible, action-oriented approach would really fit with our way of working.”

Kay Rainsby, HR director

Introducing
a fresh approach to the employee survey

Whilst working with People Insight’s expert consultants to design the survey questionnaire, Kay set about preparing the Schools for the survey. Kay said, “I approached it like we’d never done a survey before. We communicate extensively beforehand, explaining the rationale for the survey and why this was different. We had newsletters, posters and desktop screen adverts all designed to encourage participation and reassure about anonymity.”

Creating belief and trust in the employee survey process

The survey ran smoothly. “It was a really positive experience,” said Kay. “We got the results so quickly that we were able to communicate the results and next steps with actions whilst we had good momentum.” Actions were developed at the Schools Executive Team (SET) level, and Kay supports each Head to action plan on the basis of their own results.

Post survey
action planning and active comms took place at the SET and School / Operations level

You Said, We Did table for Stamford Endowed Schools via People Insight

Each member of the SET shared the results, actions and plans with their teams at INSET days or team meetings. Each term, “You Said, We Did” earns an update so staff knew the actions were a priority, and what progress had been made.

You said, We did table for People insight and Stamford

Pushing through Covid
“As with many organisations, after such a difficult year there was a concern that results would be negative and very focussed on ‘the Covid effect’. However, we lobbied hard for the project to go ahead as planned.”

Kay Rainsby, HR director

Why
listening is so important in challenging times: If things didn’t change, we wouldn’t need to ask

The commitment had been made to staff to survey in 2020. When the time came, the UK was under Covid-19 lockdown, teaching was remote and the majority of staff were working from home. As for schools all over the country, It was a stretching, exhausting time. There was initially a desire to postpone the survey.

Kay had a strong rationale:

  • There is never a ‘best time’ to launch an employee survey.
  • More than ever, it’s during times of upheaval that people must be listened to and supported. If things didn’t change, we wouldn’t need to ask.
  • The act of listening shows we care. Let’s not be afraid of the feedback.
  • It’s essential to honour previous commitments to carry out a survey, after building up good trust in the process. Not following through could be seen as disingenuous.
  • Consolidated feedback was necessary on the Covid support measures undertaken.
  • We need a baseline equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) assessment in advance of developing the Schools’ ED&I strategy.
The importance of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)
“Its vital that our pupils learn the importance of EDI for all areas of their lives. Of course, we have the responsibility as staff not just to teach this, but ensure we have an inclusive school culture. Prior to launching our revised EDI strategy, we wanted to take a baseline measure to understand where we are, and help shape our focus going forward.”

Kay Rainsby, HR Director

Lockdown
support

Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) were high on the agenda, as well as full lockdown support, as Covid-19 set in.

People Insight’s experts help Kay develop an up-to-date question set to reflect new priorities. Kay realises that Stamford needs to respond to the immediate situation, and EDI has grown in importance at the schools.

Results

77%

Engagement

Up 5 vs previous
Up 9 vs education benchmark

49%

Belief in Action

Up 11 vs previous
Up 4 vs education benchmark

77%

Support during Covid

Up 11 vs education benchmark

64%

Wellbeing

Up 14 vs previous

The SET were absolutely delighted with the improved survey results. Kay said:

“What means so much is that our staff have seen the impact of the changes and improvements we’ve made, in such a difficult period. Through the survey we’ve been able to quantitatively and qualitatively measure our progress with engagement.”

The insight from the EDI index enables the SET to focus on some clear challenges, to inform the EDI strategy going forwards, whilst providing a baseline measure to track progress against in the next round of surveys.

Kay gave each of the Heads access to their own personalised survey results dashboard, which enables them to understand their own results really quickly. When it came to sharing the results with their teams, the Heads could create their presentations instantly with the iDeck. Kay says:

“We’ve just started working on our action plans now, and its great that they are on the dashboard so I can see progress across the organisation. It also gives me input to the next round of ‘You said, We did’ communications!”

Happy and Engaged
“Whilst the commitment to action post the live survey is hugely important, asking the questions in the first place is probably one of the most important aspects of the commitment an employer makes in meaningfully engaging with their staff. Happy and engaged staff = happy and engaged pupils.”

Will Phelan, Principal of Stamford Endowed Schools

What was it like working with People Insight?

“PI have been brilliant,” said Kay. “Our consultant was so helpful. The employee survey programme really supports what we’re trying to achieve.”

Will Phelan, Principal of Stamford Endowed Schools says:

“The anonymous, easy to access and detailed analysis that we have been able to obtain for a second time has also helped to confirm that the work we have been doing in areas such as staff wellbeing and communication is having a positive impact. Equally important, we have been able to critically focus on those areas that need further work and it is pleasing and reassuring to know our levels of staff engagement are improving as a result.”

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