You’ll have a job for life in education, they said. But is it?

As the sector reflects on how we have been affected by the pandemic, one word has entered our vocabulary: furlough.

It’s one word that has had a devastating affect on our sector and it is time to learn why.

A furlough is a temporary suspension or layoff from work, where the employee usually gets to return to their job when the furlough has ended.

How can you have a temporary suspension of teachers and still get your community to run and add the value as you come out of the pandemic tunnel?

School leadership teams made difficult decisions in furloughing staff who may have been non-teaching, including boarding staff or restructuring the timetable with less staff.

Although furlough was a way for the government to support organisations, what is the effect on our sector in the longer term?

While the decision to furlough staff will have been extremely tough for the senior team, it is time to stand up and look at the effect this will have on your community.

As the number of independent schools closing is growing, your decision to furlough could have been the difference. But, how much do your staff know or understand? Why me and not them?

Can you answer this question in terms of who and who did not go on furlough using facts not opinions? Do I not give value to you? What makes my job the one that could be going next? Do we all have jobs, is the school financially viable? And then…the jungle drums start to beat, affecting future enrolments and community feeling.

Answering these questions as a leadership team is key to understanding the hidden emotional climate that you will be facing on the return to the front line of your school.

"Step into the shoes of staff that you have furloughed"

What did they think? How does it feel? What was their day-to-day like outside your community? How can you help? What help will they take from the school? How can you rebuild trust with them?

Preparing for staff returning to work after furlough is a process that does not happen a couple of days before the inset day. You need to plan strategically and empathetically to build foundations for the next school year.

Moving forward, here are the "furlough four" that can help you start strong in a post pandemic world:

Understand that staff morale will be low. Take time to build in fun opportunities to rebuild your team. Now is not the time to have inset that is death by Powerpoint – it is time for senior teams to think creatively to give the message thank you and we care.

Address the hidden elephants in your room. What is the hidden elephant in the room? Yes, you had elephants before that were front and centre but these have now changed.

"It's not the time to have inset that is death by PowerPoint"

Your staff have changed in ways that you could not imagine during the pandemic— how can you support them and their mental health? Maybe ask your art teacher to do a workshop, PE staff to organise a challenge or start a community initiative to look at what we have learned.

Ask the question you do not want to answer. As a leader, there is always one question you do not want someone to ask you. What is your one? Is it a member of staff asking why? Asking why is such an emotional question and as humans we become defensive on the answer.

Be proactive, ask these questions and get the answers ready. Start alternative investments to get everyone back on track. Create a staff “genius hour” with the results are shared at a staff meeting. Use this opportunity to allow staff to grow by leading on a project to help them and you.

Ask them what they need for you to invest in to help everyone move forward. It is time to turn the furlough four into the fantastic four.