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Achieving Excellence Through People

Approximate reading time: 6 minutes.

All MAT leaders know the difficulties of recruiting and retaining the best staff – teachers, support staff and leaders – in England it’s been a growing national issue for some years now.

Whenever your current or prospective staff members interact with your school and the people in it, they are being influenced in how they think. They evaluate and at some point, they reach a conclusion - either they want to be a part of it, or they don’t.

We can think about these interactions as ‘moments of truth’.

These are a big part of determining how well you attract, recruit and keep staff, so they are crucial to the long-term success of your MAT. They happen across the full employee lifecycle.

The seven stages of the employee lifecycle - from attraction to farewell


The very first step is employee attraction. This is all about generating interest in your MAT and schools. It is more than simply sharing good news stories, as important as this can be, and needs to be embedded as part of a comprehensive people strategy. Even when you don’t have vacancies, you should be identifying opportunities to get your message out to your ideal candidates and to give them reasons to engage with you.

Remember the best ambassadors you have are those already working with you: why would they tell anyone how great a place this is to work in, unless it really is? So, you should start with them. For instance, you might think about how well you manage professional development opportunities, flexible working and the offer of part-time roles for those who need them. Every time you do something to help a current member of staff manage their work-life balance better, you’re creating an opportunity – hopefully when they run into staff at other schools and they chat about their respective schools, and their respective leaders’ management styles, your staff member will have something good to say.

Use your staff to attract and recruit others - use them in videos on your website and ask them to share why they love working with your MAT. Prospective staff would much prefer to hear from others like them.


You are recruiting in a highly competitive market in which – depending on the position or subject – there may well be a national shortage of qualified candidates.

Management theory gives us a two-pronged means of looking at this: there are ‘hygiene factors’ or ‘dissatisfiers’ which can prove negative if you get them wrong, and there are ‘motivators’ which will be positive if you get them right. The ‘hygiene factors’ in recruitment include the job description, person specification, application form and job advert. The materials produced by different schools often look similar, so how can you make yours look different and standout? Perhaps by the questions you ask or by making the process simpler and easier - maybe ask them to make a short video about why they want the job, rather than having to fill in a big application form.

Most importantly make sure they only have to give information once and this passes through your whole process.

Job interviews and selection days are an opportunity to talk about your motivators: things like opportunities to develop and to achieve; the ways you recognise and reward good work. Ask yourself: “What would the best MAT or school in the world do?” Be clear about the activities you ask people to complete and why, and respect the time candidates have available to prepare.

Be proud of your school and focus on attitude and cultural fit rather than just skills and experience. You should offer feedback to every candidate who applies. Your time is tight and in demand, but taking time to deliver brief feedback will set you apart from others. There are relatively straightforward ways of doing this without adding time to the process. For example, ask the person who looks through the application forms to highlight, for all candidates, one positive thing that stands out as well as the main reason they are not called for interview. You can then share this brief feedback by email, form or even via a short video (there are plenty of free ways of doing this, such as using Loom). Imagine the wow factor something like this would create.

The candidates in your recruitment exercise may apply again in future, and they probably will share their experience with others. Try to imagine how you can generate goodwill and even excitement, even for those who don’t get the job.


The term ‘onboarding’ is worth unpicking a bit. It isn’t the same as induction. Onboarding is about helping staff to absorb and eventually to encapsulate the culture of the school. It isn’t about their first hour, day or even week. It’s the start of an ongoing process of support and challenge.

It begins on the day you appoint them, and it continues as you keep in touch from then until they start - how can you reinforce their belief that they have made the right decision to join you? Sharing key communications on people-related matters - development, benefits, access to resources and a line manager - can help them to feel they belong.

You may well be desperate to get your new teaching recruit or support staff member into their role on day one because they’re in such high demand, but week one should include much more than that.

In that first week they should meet the CEO, principal or headteacher and other senior leaders; they should have lunch with a group of teachers; they should spend quality time with their department manager. They should have a personal plan to cover the coming months; regular one-to-one time; coaching; feedback; training; regular two-way reviews; a first career conversation and more.

It will make a big difference if on arrival the new recruit’s line manager can tell them how much they have been looking forward to this, how valuable they will be and how big a difference their contribution will make. As will colleagues doing the same thing. This will further create the sense of belonging, which is so important to wellbeing.


Managing the performance of individual staff members is not just about delivering strong results. It is also a big part of staff wellbeing: when poor performance or behaviour is not tackled early, it can lead to resentment among others affected by it – and then those others may consciously or unconsciously suffer their own dips in performance.

Line managers often perceive dealing with staff issues as ‘difficult.’ But it will help if you can take out that word and see it simply as a conversation. What you need is good preparation, the collection of evidence, the ability to ask questions, listening skills and a commitment to diarising and following up.

Make sure there is an ongoing dialogue and regular one-to-ones, rather than a single annual or bi- annual review. It takes time, particularly at the beginning, but it will save significant time in the long run.

Of course, performance isn’t just about managing people who need to improve, it is also about supporting others by using strengths and building on what is already strong performance.


At an early stage of the employee lifecycle, think about the development opportunities you offer – do they fit with your staff members’ interests and agendas as well as the MATs? Going back to that management theory, development should be a motivator. If you are on their agenda, at least as much as your own, then they will see the benefits of being in your school, and of staying there.

Development cannot simply be about short twilight sessions, 15-minute briefings, inset days and workshop merry-go-rounds. It is about career conversations, an agreed long and short-term plan which is highly relevant to the individual.

Having a process to identify talent and then agreeing how to accelerate the development of those individuals, both for their benefit and for the school, is key. Providing opportunities to take on additional responsibility, to mix with other talented staff, to have a mentor, to take national qualifications or other training will all be part of the mix.


Each of the other five steps above will strongly influence your chances of retaining great staff.

Identify and manage talented staff early, know what roles are at risk and have candidates ready and able to step into them. Build a succession plan for every level across your MAT.

You should also create alternative career paths. Keep in mind that not everyone is cut out to be a leader. Strong classroom performers need to be rewarded without having to progress along a leadership path. Bigger MATs can often tackle this with cluster, regional and national roles, but if you’re a smaller MAT you may need to be creative.

Flexible working and clear plans to retain those going on maternity or shared leave need to be key parts of your strategy. You will probably want to consider ways of enabling staff to move between your schools more easily so that you can keep people within your family while allowing them to develop or to fit their working lives with their other commitments.

One way of managing talent, succession and the risk of leaving is through using the nine-box grid.

The grid is designed to identify talent, to see how employees are performing and assess their potential. It became popular because it provided a more rounded way of assessing employees. It covers delivering objectives (track record), how they are delivered (behaviours), their likely stretch (can the employee perform at a higher level), and ambition (do they want to progress).

Assessing all four areas facilitates the plotting of employees against their performance and their potential. Depending on their score for each of these, they will be placed in one of nine boxes. You can see an example of this in the diagram below. This is taken from, and is a nine box grid process designed for the education sector, using sector generated questions

Nine box grid example

Nine box grid from

Where an employee is placed will suggest action that you might take to either manage performance, provide training or support, accelerate their development or a range of other interventions. As well as helping decide how best to lead each employee, the grid will provide a range of insights. These include quickly identifying those at risk of leaving, the likely impact of them leaving, their readiness for promotion, likely next and highest role and whether anyone is identified to replace them.

For MATs, school groups and larger schools, it is a great way of surfacing talent, opportunities and potential issues. For larger groups of schools that are geographically well located, or that operate in regional clusters it should minimise the likelihood of losing staff by managing placements and promotions between schools.

Other actions you might take to manage existing staff includes stay interviews.


It’s inevitable that some staff will move on. They may not be meeting expectations, despite being given support, and/or perhaps leadership, teaching or support work really isn’t for them. In this case, you can help them to depart in a prompt, professional and compassionate way, so that the way they tell others about it enhances your reputation and encourages others to work with you.

Maybe they’re ready for promotion and you don’t have an opportunity for them within the MAT and your schools or maybe there are others ahead of them in the ‘queue’. In this case you can proactively support them to find the role they want, even when it’s external - though in the case of larger MATs, as mentioned above, internal opportunities ought to be found for those staff you want to retain.  

You may be disappointed to lose them but if they join another MAT or school and tell their new colleagues what a fantastic place they came from, that will build your reputation as an employer of choice and aid your recruitment. Maybe in the future the right job will come up at the right time in your MAT, and they will return and work with you again.

If understanding more about developing your people strategy and staff wellbeing are among your priorities, there are more articles in the toolkit and you can sign-up for a free account in the top menu. You can also book a short meeting with a member of our team - click here to book for 30-minutes.

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