Creating Effective Onboarding Experiences for New School Staff 

Onboarding is a critical part of the HR process for every employee and employer relationship. In this blog, we explain how to design an effective induction programme for new starters in school.
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The value of induction  

With the ongoing recruitment and retention crisis for the whole of the education sector, school leaders will naturally often breath a sigh of relief when they have successfully appointed a new member of staff and believe the difficult part is over – wrong! 

Employee inductions, often called onboarding, or even orientation, is a critical part of the HR process for every employee and employer relationship.  

Onboarding describes an employee’s induction process where they can learn the organisations mission, values, culture as well as the technical skills of the post, but it also provides a ‘who’s who’ and lays down a foundation for future work relationships.  

The process of helping an individual understand the requirements of their new role should have begun as part of the recruitment and selection process and they may even have been told about the school’s ethos. However, a candidate will not have picked up the nuances of the culture, “that feeling” that is intrinsic to every educational establishment. So, an employee’s induction shouldn’t just be an event comprising of one or two meetings – it needs to be much more than this.  

The duration and content of any induction process may vary depending on the educational establishment’s size, complexity and setting. However, the goal of the induction is to help employees feel welcome, informed, and confident in their new roles and ensure they are set for success.

Prioritising staff inductions is a must. If both staff and managers understand the importance of the induction process, retention will be greater. Too often heavy workloads or staff shortages mean inductions are not given the investment they need.  

Naturally, there will be common issues and generic important information but that doesn’t mean one size fits all – there is a need to customise an induction as appropriate. After providing key information about the school’s aims and mission, along with key policies, it’s important to focus on which teams the new employee will join and the role they will perform to ensure role specific inductions can be created.  

The benefits of an effective onboarding process

Effective inductions need to be planned so that they can be conducted in a timely, organised and engaging way. Effective onboarding results in: 

  • A reduction in anxiety and improves staff wellbeing 
  • Delivers faster integration helping with workload 
  • Ensures a better understanding of the role and educational establishment 
  • Opens up lines of communications at different levels 
  • Develops a culture of inclusiveness  
  • Improves retention 

It is important to recognise that many performance difficulties can be linked to poor induction processes. A failure by management to recognise where a new employee is having difficulty or is underperforming can lead to serious problems at a later stage. It will be necessary to demonstrate that appropriate induction procedures were implemented.  

How to design an effective induction programme

Complaints from new starters often have themes of feeling overwhelmed, disengaged and confused. Therefore, it’s best to focus on the why, when, where, and how of their position to ensure there isn’t information overload or, alternatively, not enough!  

An induction process is relevant to anyone starting a new job or commencing work in a new environment. This means staff who have been internally promoted or have taken a sideways move will benefit from a planned induction period as well as those who are totally new to a school. All staff appointed or returning to work are entitled to an induction program appropriate to their role and situation.  

It is usually the social and emotional aspects of any induction that can cause concern before a new starter begins. It is important to acknowledge employees will have different requirements depending on the nature of their role, level of experience, personal circumstances – so definitely consider the WHO – treat people as individuals. For example, the type of induction for a school leaver will be different from someone returning to work after a career break, or a person newly promoted to management compared to that of an experienced leader.  

It would be remiss not to mention that addressing specific issues and requirements is essential to ensure reasonable adjustments have been discussed in advance and implemented in accordance with a school’s equality obligations and requirements. These also need to be monitored and reviewed during the whole of the employee’s job cycle.  

The start of an induction should be built into the recruitment process planning. Induction involved activities and engagement on an induction timeline with key dates being: pre start date, 1st day, 1st week, 1st month, and beyond with a segway into the probationary period reviews.  It could be useful to identify elements of the induction that an individual can do on their own before they arrive, such as familiarising themselves with important documents, policies, and introducing key people by providing paperwork, online training or videos.  

By organising a tour of the school, providing a map, and creating a video introduction to key staff of the school or MAT means that before the big first day of employment each person feels engaged and part of the community, which can help to reduce their nerves. Common and practical FAQs along with a staff handbook and other necessary documentation can also help a person to feel valued, supporting them to become part of the team and adjust to their new work environment.  

It is beneficial to plan who else will need to be involved within the induction program, beyond just the new starter’s line manager. Consider their peer level, day-to-day interactions, i.e. their work networks – considering the mix of people they will be working with as well as those they will meet in the staff room and on breaks, and who they need to know about in the wider school community, involving all stakeholders such as DSL, school leaders, Governors and Trustees as well as pupils and parents.  

Some staff benefit from organising a buddy or a mentor – both very different provisions offering different levels of support for new starters.  A new employee could be offered the opportunity to participate in activities prior to their start date such as attending staff or school events. Such activities would also provide an opportunity for new employees to be introduced to wider group of school colleagues.  

Identification of training needs for their specific role may have been addressed as part of recruitment but can be fine-tuned and clarified through the induction period, reinforcing the best possible outcome for each new starter being able to successfully fulfil their role and increasing retention overall.  

One suggestion for continual improvement and development of your school’s induction processes would be to conduct 360’s on inductions. Ask staff what they felt was helpful and how the process could be improved.  After all, you never get a second chance to make a first impression of your school and staff themselves are a great advertisement for advocating joining your educational establishment.  

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