Would you like an additional full-time teacher, TA or other member of staff to start at your school, while incurring no additional costs? If so, then good news – you can! But how? Well, most schools are currently haemorrhaging time and money equivalent to the expense of a full-time teacher. And where are all these resources being lost? Conflict.
What is conflict?
The word ‘conflict’ conjures up images of screaming and feuding staff. It actually covers a wide spectrum of behaviour and performance, all of which will cost your school time and money. Below are some examples of the most common types of conflict you can expect to encounter:
• Compensation – where we do something because the person who should be doing it isn’t. e.g. a teacher spends 10 minutes each morning preparing resources, which is what their TA should be doing but isn’t, because they’re late or don’t prepare the resources properly.
• Avoidance – this is where we can avoid speaking to someone or asking for something because we worry about the other person’s reaction. By avoiding it, either the ‘thing’ won’t get done at all, or else we’ll compensate in order to get it done.
• Fall out – perhaps someone has created a negative atmosphere that’s adversely affecting other members of the team. Maybe the team was unable to properly discuss a new idea because of the individual in question.
• Gossip – which can create ill-feeling and cause more problems.
You’ll notice that none of these examples involve big, overt displays of conflict – yet these seemingly minor issues can all hinder the work you want your teams to be doing, and reduce the potential impact that individuals within those teams can make.
Calculating the cost
Conflict wastes time and money in three key areas, starting with salary. If you’re a one-form entry school and each member of teaching staff spends just 30 minutes a week being involved or affected by conflict, that’s costing you nearly £5k p/a in lost time.
Sickness has meanwhile long been used as a marker of how happy staff, teams and organisations are. The higher it is, the more likely people are to be unhappy. In an organisation where there’s conflict you’re therefore likely to witness higher incidents of sickness – though bear in mind that only rarely can this be explicitly attributable to conflict issues. In the context of our one-form entry school, if people are taking just two days sick a year, that costs you £4k.
Finally, recruitment has become considerably harder in recent years – the time spent recruiting new staff can easily add up to £1.5k p/a in recruitment costs.
What is conflict making you spend?
For our one-form entry school, my conservative estimate for the cost of conflict so far stands at £10k p/a – almost the cost of a TA. For each additional form teacher thereafter, add another £6k p/a. At a more typical two-form entry primary that equates to £16k, which isn’t far off the cost of an NQT. At an average 5-form secondary school the figure rises to £34k p/a. I’ve seen many instances where a school’s costs exceed £100k p/a.
The real cost of conflict
The real cost of conflict, however, takes the form of lost opportunities.
According to my conservative estimates, the time lost to conflict adds up to 20 full-time weeks for a one-form entry school, and a further 15 weeks for each additional form entry. For an averagely sized two-form entry primary that’s 35 weeks – almost a full school working year. For a five-form entry secondary, it’s 80 weeks – two full school years.
What could you do with that time if it wasn’t sucked up on conflict? Improve the curriculum. Mark books more thoroughly. Tailor teaching even further. Train and learn new skills. Teach and develop the team. Deliver more interventions. Find better interventions.
Money buys resources, and I’m sure you’ll agree that the best resources are great team members and the time they can give. So what can you do to start countering the cost of conflict?
Conflict is a black hole that sucks away time and money. Plugging that hole, kindly and effectively, could release the resources you need to add at least one more TA to your school and up to several teachers.
Of course, the process of tackling conflict will itself take up time and resources, but it’s an investment that will reap huge dividends – and you’d be surprised at how quickly you can resolve issues.
So what’s the key to resolving conflict? The answer lies in learning how to have successful difficult conversations; ones where you can challenge poor performance and behaviour, and bring about the outcomes you need. You can find further information and assistance on this topic through my free e-course, ‘How to structure a difficult conversation’. The Heads Up website also offers a whole range of free resources that can help you in other areas – now go and plug that black hole!
Cost of conflict calculator and tutorial
You can use the Heads Up Cost of Conflict spreadsheet to calculate how much time and money is being lost, and think through where and how it’s being lost. Consider what changes you want to see, and who you need to have difficult conversations with in order to bring those changes about. teachwire.net/cost-of-conflict
• E-course – how to structure a difficult conversation ukheadsup.com/storm
• Heads Up TV video channel and newsletter ukheadsup.com/headsuptv
Sonia Gill’s books Successful Difficult Conversations in School and Journey to Outstanding are both published by John Catt and available via Amazon
Sonia Gill is founder of the consultancy Heads Up, which specialises in making schools truly outstanding