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Published: 27 May 2021

Teach First – Joint Winner 2021, Best Covid-19 Response

Teach First is a charity working with schools facing the toughest challenges to make education fair.

Before the pandemic, all the charity’s 800 staff could flex their hours and location from day one of being employed. This enabled the charity to move quickly to a 100% remote and flexible model in March 2020. Recognising and celebrating the diversity of families is core to Teach First’s approach, ensuring personalised support to understand and meet individual needs.

Anyone can work flexibly, whether it’s a formal working pattern agreed in their contract or an ad hoc approach. The charity works with each employee to find the best solution to fit work around their life.

Teach First has built on its existing culture of trust and flexibility since the pandemic with a renewed message to staff of ‘outcomes not hours’, which is shared regularly by the CEO and other senior leaders. An existing agile culture has been further embedded allowing people to fit their work around their life – whether that’s home schooling, caring for a relative or making time for their wellbeing.

To ensure that staff had the information they needed during the pandemic, the charity increased the frequency of virtual all-staff meetings from quarterly to monthly. Video meetings led by the CEO gave staff opportunities to ask questions.

Regular wellbeing emails always came within 24 hours of key government announcements. Staff could feedback through an anonymous form. An FAQ document was updated frequently, covering all key questions and hosted on the Intranet.

Listening and a collaborative approach were central to the charity’s response. Bi-monthly employee engagement forums and small group engagement sessions with the CEO gave people the opportunity for in-depth conversations, to give feedback and ask questions. The charity also got direct feedback from employees via regular wellbeing surveys which asked how they were coping or whether they needed more support. Results informed prompt amendments to policy and practice.

Employees were offered additional paid time off and extended leave programmes to give parents and carers more dedicated time to care without experiencing financial hardship. An extended wellbeing offer included mental health awareness training for managers, virtual GP and counselling services, and home exercise and wellbeing tools.

Paid wellbeing days were introduced for staff to take time off without needing to give a reason. The whole organisation has also collectively ‘switched off’ by extending Christmas shutdown and introducing organisational ‘bank holidays’.

The charity’s Working Families affinity group has been coming together virtually to give parents peer support and a safe place to share resources and normalise experiences.

The charity’s employee engagement survey results have steadily improved over the course of the pandemic. In February 2021, 82% of staff said they trust the organisation compared to 68% in March 2020.

Hear what the judges had to say about the winners of the Best Covid-19 Response Award.