Free article: HR and the successful school: A case study

Published: Friday, 23 June 2017

Adrian Kneeshaw, Headteacher of Carlton Bolling College, gives a personal viewpoint of the benefits of bringing in the experts.

Summary points

  • Effective HR ensures that schools can maximise the financial resources available for school improvement while minimising the time it takes to release resources.
  • Staff restructuring and streamlining can release resources for school improvements in other areas.
  • Expert HR advice can facilitate handling changes smoothly and maintain the right staffing levels with the right people.

The success of any organisation is largely dependent on two factors:

  1. The resources available.
  2. How well these available resources are deployed.

For schools, success is now largely defined by exam or progress data. One of the challenges all school leaders, and indeed leaders of most organisations face is striving to increase efficiency or productivity through channelling the optimal resources to the areas that will most effectively produce results. The leaders who achieve this are likely to be the most successful.

You may be reflecting on the title of this article and wondering why is human resources (HR) so important. It doesn’t help students learn or make progress. The answer is that, among other things, effective HR ensures that you can maximise the financial resources available for school improvement while minimising the time it takes to release resources for use in your priority areas. Think of it like oil in a car engine. By itself the oil doesn’t create any movement, but it is absolutely essential to the smooth running of the car.

Making changes

Illustrating this in a practical context, when I started as headteacher at Carlton Bolling I had obvious staffing problems. Among these were a senior leadership team containing 18 people and a long-term sickness absence list running to 14 staff.

Let’s take the senior leadership team first. After first scratching my head, wondering why anyone would think a team of that size was needed, my mind focused on the massive waste of resources associated with this. I calculated that the roles we didn’t really require added up to a total of around £500,000. The ‘opportunity cost’ in all this was that we didn’t have the money to fund one of the school’s planned central improvement themes of having small class sizes in maths and English across all age groups.

Likewise, the on-going burden of paying for 14 staff who weren’t in school was another £500,000 barrier in the way of an extended teaching and learning team. Clearly, both issues needed sorting, and quickly, if the school was going to be provided with the oxygen of resources to improve.

As soon as I started planning to tackle these issues, I realised that I didn’t have the support to manage the job. More specifically, I didn’t have the HR support to guide me through the process.

The HR company then advising the school was far too risk averse, slow to respond to enquiries and initiate action and, most worrying of all, offered poor advice. The occasion that sticks in my mind is the guidance they gave in the planning for the senior team restructure. They told me that many staff who were going to lose their post had an automatic right to be ‘ring-fenced’ for consideration for the one new post created. This didn’t seem right to me, as I couldn’t see how we could be forced to employ someone wholly unsuited to a role. I was proved right after consulting with another provider who informed me that we were free to openly advertise for the best candidate.

This was a key turning point for the school, as this led to us changing HR providers. This decision brought about immediate dividends and continues to more than pay for itself through the excellent advice I have received from our new providers.

Under their guidance, the leadership team restructure was conducted smoothly. I finished with a far more effective senior team, despite it being reduced by half, releasing the funds to create the small classes in English and maths. Long-term sickness absence was tackled with the same efficiency. Instead of the former risk-averse approach, solid objective advice was offered that quickly tackled the problem. While our approach remained professional and dignified, a new no-nonsense approach was communicated to staff. Some got the message and made a rapid recovery, while others were retired or agreed settlements to terminate their employment. Within 12 months the school was in the almost unthinkable position of having no long-term staff absences!

Moving forwards

Since then our HR advisers have continued to play a key role in facilitating school improvement. No longer do incompetent staff languish in seemingly interminable discussion about support plans following poor results. Improving the performance of these staff is often a vain task, irrespective of the level of support you offer. Many do not have the required energy or motivation, whereas others just do not possess the skills for the job. So, if you are sure someone won’t make the grade, do you waste money continuing to pay their salary, meanwhile offering the children under their charge a poor deal? The answer clearly is no, and the tool of choice to counter this is the ‘protected conversation’.

In outline, the ‘protected conversation’ allows you to express your concerns and intention to take the person into a much shorter capability process, offering a settlement agreement for them to terminate their employment as the alternative. Clearly, this type of conversation needs to be well planned or things can go awry. However, our expert HR advice has facilitated the process and helped us avoid problems, enabling huge savings and far better student results.

Within my senior leadership team, I strive to surround myself with experts: people who know more about their specialist area than I do and can really drive school improvement and progress. I have made expert HR advice part of that key group, as advice in this area can make or break schools and careers in today’s competitive education environment. Get it right and you will quickly free up resources to give you a fighting chance of success. Get it wrong and you will be in the quicksand of lengthy and expensive HR cases, which no school can afford.


Use the following item in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice:

About the author

Adrian Kneeshaw was appointed as headteacher of Carlton Bolling in September 2013, which was the beginning of a very challenging, interesting and immensely rewarding experience. He has a passion for education, particularly in the enablement of disadvantaged young people, ensuring that they are able to achieve their very best. Adrian is very creative in his outlook and believes in taking education forward in innovative ways.

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