The topic of school culture and working conditions has been an increasingly popular one in discussions between school leaders. Over the past few months we (David Weston, Bethan Hindley and Maria Cunningham) have been working on pulling together findings from across the literature in this area to see what conclusions can be drawn.

Most existing reviews of professional development literature focus on the content and process of teacher development. They also tend to draw upon experimental studies based on large interventions. This potentially neglects important findings about how/whether teachers’ working conditions affect teachers’ improvement, measured in terms of impact upon students’ academic attainment, over time.

So far, we’ve reviewed 30 papers on teacher working conditions and school leadership in order to explore the impact of teacher working conditions on student attainment. Our paper is still a work in progress and we’re sharing it more widely now to stimulate discussion and to get additional scholarly feedback. We’re grateful to a number of academics and system leaders for their feedback on the paper so far.

We find evidence that:

  • The quality of teachers’ working conditions has a clear, consistent relationship with student attainment that tentatively suggests a causal impact;
  • The role of the school leader in fostering these conditions appears to be crucial;

5 Aspects of Teachers’ Working Conditions

There are five aspects of teachers’ working conditions that appear most closely associated with increased student attainment:

  1. Creating opportunities for effective teacher collaboration to explore student data, plan and review lessons and curricula, and plan and moderate assessments,
  2. Involving teachers in whole school planning, decision-making and improvement,
  3. Creating a culture of mutual trust, respect, enthusiasm in which communication is open and honest,
  4. Building a sense of shared mission, with shared goals, clear priorities and high expectations of professional behaviours and of students’ learning, and
  5. Facilitating classroom safety and behaviour, where disruption and bullying are very rare and teachers feel strongly supported by senior leaders in their efforts to maintain this classroom environment;
  • Allocating teachers to the certain partners, mentors, subjects and classes and keeping this stable over time is associated with a positive impact on student attainment;
  • The same working conditions appear to be associated with successful, sustainable school turnaround…
  • … and with successful retention of teachers in the profession…
  • … and with successfully navigating the complexities and uncertainties of COVID-19.

We identify four guiding principles for training leaders around the required skills, the necessity to focus on use of time including meetings, the importance of mentoring and coaching and the importance of an open and communicative culture.

Learn more about these guiding principles and how you can help to apply them to your setting with a Diagnostic Review from the TDT team. Contact us for more details.

Sign up below to get notified of our soon-to-be released video where we unpick some of the findings so far and discuss the working paper with Dr Sam Sims from UCL Institute of Education. You’ll also be invited to contribute your thoughts about the working paper.