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School culture hugely influences school success. It affects everything from staff and pupil safety, to pupil behaviour, wellbeing, attainment and progression. Therefore it is vital that a positive culture is a strategic priority in school. 

Culture comes from school policy, the shape of the timetable, the pedagogical approach, the environment that we work in and all the choices and behaviours set out and exemplified by the leadership team.

On a day to day basis however, culture is owned by teachers and pupils. How they communicate and treat one another, their attitudes to learning reinforce to everyone ‘how we do things here’.

It is hugely influential yet culture hasn’t always been prioritised by school leaders. Two significant things in recent years are leading to changing this.

The 2021 Ofsted report into sexual abuse in schools and colleges

  • Ofsted made the direct connection between pupil behaviour and the culture within a school. They recommended a ‘whole school approach’ to address what they described as ‘normalised’ peer on peer abuse.
  • Ofsted announced that inspections would now take into consideration the culture in a school. Evaluated through interviews with teachers and pupils.
  • Ofsted made the direct connection between the teaching of RSE and pupil behaviour. Inspectors need to see that a school has developed a well planned RSE curriculum with evidence of learner outcomes and reflection.

The Covid-19 pandemic

  • One of the many outcomes for schools of the Covid pandemic has been increased awareness of pupil and staff mental health and wellbeing. Since the pandemic pupil absence has increased, the BBC reported just this week that across the UK almost two million pupils regularly are missing school. This is in part due to anxiety of returning to school. The risk is that many pupils no longer feel the sense of belonging that is essential for success in education.

  • At Life Lessons we’ve anecdotally heard from our partner schools about new behavioural challenges linked to the pandemic. In particular since the isolation of homeschooling, year 7s and 8s are having difficulty adjusting to changes in friendship groups and a reduced ability to respect boundaries with other pupils. Our school partners have also shared that since returning to school after lockdown, pupils are struggling with respecting teachers and staff members and they are not behaving appropriately towards them. This all has an impact on learning for pupils and on staff wellbeing.

Pupil behaviour, pupil belonging and staff wellbeing are not easily solved. But they can be drastically improved by focussing on the development of a positive culture in a school.

As of March 2022, the Ofsted handbook references school ‘culture’ 12 times. Keeping Children Safe in Education (KSCIE) references school ‘culture’ 20 times.

Culture can no longer be ignored by SLT. As leaders within education, we must prioritise culture and ensure positive culture is a strategic priority in schools. 

For more information about school culture, read our blog: 5 Ways Staff can Positively Influence School Culture

At Life Lessons we support schools to create open and empathetic school cultures. Get in touch to learn more about how we can support your school to develop and nurture a positive culture.