Q&A with Jen Elliott, CEO at EPM

Why is redefining your people strategy important?

Today we sat down with EPM’s CEO, Jen Elliott, to discuss “Redefining your People Strategy”. Jen will be speaking at the MAT Summit at the Schools & Academies Show 2019 on 3 April.

Find further details here: https://www.epm.co.uk/training-events/london/schools-academies-show-2019-day-one-london/

  1. Why is a people strategy important for schools and academies?

Jen: Over the last 25 years we have worked in partnership with a wide variety of successful education providers. The one thing that these successful providers have in common is a clear, well-defined and regularly reviewed strategy, which recognises that people are their most important asset.

Despite the obvious link between an engaged workforce and excellent educational outcomes, we often find that an effective people strategy is one of the last areas to be addressed and yet, if developed and implemented effectively, we see an immediate positive impact for the employees at the academy and subsequent overall outcomes.

The education sector has changed significantly over recent years with academy conversions, MAT formation and growth and now re-brokering of MATs. This has resulted in structures, policies, systems and processes requiring a review to ensure they are fit for purpose in this fast-changing environment. A people strategy is no different and should be prioritised. 

Formalities such as schemes of delegation, HR policies and procedures, etc. are of course vital, but any effective HR strategy must have people at the heart of it. Attraction, engagement, development and retention of employees is even more critical now that performance is subject to external assessment and workloads are under constant scrutiny, particularly in the context of challenging financial times. Employee health and well-being should also be a key theme. The schools and academies that we support who are innovating to support employees in this area are seeing tangible benefits and a direct link to overall performance.

  1. Why is HR in education different from HR in other sectors?

Jen: Managing people in an education setting is complex. In addition to adhering to ever-changing employment statute and case law, there is the added complexity of strong trade union membership, education legislation and statutory guidance. Becoming an academy adds another legal dimension: multi-sites, TUPE legislation, differing terms and conditions of employment, new positions centrally and a whole host of other new issues to address. No MAT journey is the same!

  1. Could you give me your key tips for implementing a people strategy in a MAT?

Jen: A people strategy sounds complicated, but it really doesn’t have to be! A clear vision is key. Some of our most effective Trusts have taken a simplistic, pragmatic approach to this issue. Changes have not been expensive or time-consuming, but have been aligned with their growth plans and strategic direction.

Once the Trustees are agreed on the approach, it is essential to make a start. Some small steps can go a long way to help a collection of schools start to look, feel and behave like a MAT: a single employer with a clear vision. Simply aligning language, values, priorities and some core policies is a good place to start. It is not necessary to strive for perfection. Although TUPE legislation does not sit comfortability with harmonised conditions, there are actions that can be taken to work towards aligned terms and conditions across the MAT.   

Lastly, as obvious as it sounds, engaging employees and recognised trade unions in the development of the strategy will help ensure that colleagues buy into and fully embrace the changes. 

My key tips would be:

  • Ensure that the strategy is aligned with growth plans and is more than just compliance/transactional /operational focussed.
  • Ensure responsibility for HR is clearly identified at board/trust level.
  • Review the internal /external split of responsibilities for HR – what is the optimum for your trust? A blended model of internal employees and outsourced expertise is often the most effective.
  • Data is key. Ensure you have developed a set of people metrics which are clear, actionable and that you can measure progress against.
  • Consider how you will differentiate yourself as an employer. Why would a great teacher join your Trust and why should they stay?
  • Engage employees in the process at all times and seek ongoing feedback.
  • Review the strategy on at least an annual basis to ensure it continues to be relevant and has the desired impact.
  • Think proactively and be innovative about initiatives that assist with improving the health and wellbeing of employees.