United Learning is a group of over 60 schools which aims to provide excellent education to young people across the country. They seek to improve the life chances of all the young people they serve and make it their mission to bring out the ‘best in everyone’.

The challenge

United Learning currently educate over 43,000 pupils across the UK and employ approximately 7,500 staff. The country is facing a national crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, and this is the organisation’s biggest strategic risk. They take on some of the most challenging schools with a deep history of underperformance. Working in these schools is extremely rewarding, but also very demanding. The ability to recruit and retain quality leaders and teachers has a major impact on young people. High levels of employee engagement along with talent management, performance, wellbeing and CPD are all factors they are addressing as part of this challenge.

In 2016, nearly a third of teachers who joined the teaching profession in 2010 had
left within five years; in 2017 the Department for Education (DfE) reported that the number of children enrolling in state schools would rise by 800,000 within the next ten years. In early 2018 it became clear that national applications to teacher training programmes were down by a third. With pupil numbers increasing sharply, United Learning recognise the vital importance in investing in their staff and giving them the support they need to remain not just within the Group, but within the industry.

Every United Learning employee undertakes their annual Group survey, which has a high completion rate – 2017 had a completion rate of 82%. Although they have a high employee engagement rate at 75%, they are confident, from national evidence and their own exit surveys, that work-life balance has a direct impact on motivation, engagement and how loyal teachers are feeling. With United Learning’s turnover rate currently higher than national average, this really is a critical business issue for them; one they are tackling head-on.

United Learning is partnering with Robertson Cooper on a multi-layered, staged approach, which initially focused on raising awareness and building energy / momentum around wellbeing with the Group’s School populations and progressed to upskilling Heads, HR leads and Wellbeing Champions to manage wellbeing more effectively over the long-term.

United Learning Case Study

Partnering with Robertson Cooper has enabled us to take a strategic approach to wellbeing that, after two years, is already delivering real benefits to our Schools. In our initial pilot group of schools, we have seen lower sickness absence, improved levels of satisfaction with work/life balance, improvements in employee engagement and some of them have already seen an impact on staff retention.

Mandy Coalter
Director of People, United Learning


Create a Group wellbeing strategy that can translate into an accessible and consistent standard to guide school activity in the area of wellbeing and resilience..

Create a strong advocate cohort of Heads who both promote and encourage a focus on wellbeing amongst others inside schools and across the Group.

Create a capable and enthusiastic Wellbeing Champion’s network, who can support the roll-out of the strategy across their schools.

Create an overarching acceptance of personal responsibility for wellbeing by all employees.

Integrating wellbeing activities into other HR priorities, in particular recruitment and retention.

Understand current pressures and the impact on health and wellbeing in the pilot schools.

Track the impact of health and wellbeing investment on key School performance indicators. e.g. student performance.


Over the last two years Robertson Cooper has worked closely with United Learning to design a staged approach to developing wellbeing across multiple sites and populations. Working with key stakeholders we collected data and designed a pilot approach, alongside supporting United Learning with setting out their four-year wellbeing strategy.

In the first instance we focused on a cohort of eight pilot schools with the core aim being to build consistent levels of awareness of wellbeing via various wellbeing activities / resources designed and supported by Robertson Cooper. Catching the attention of this population created an energy around wellbeing activities that turned into internal case studies and wellbeing stories to share with Schools outside of the pilot. This experience and energy created a readiness for development, so we moved our focus towards upskilling key roles and populations in the second year of the programme.

Robertson Cooper’s approach to creating Good Days at Work makes sense to us as it supports so many levels of our organisation and unites us around one compelling idea – who doesn’t want to have a good day at work?! Our senior team were supported with the development of our wellbeing strategy to ensure we had clarity, purpose and direction; our HR team are orientated towards tackling our HR challenges with a wellbeing lens; we focused efforts on building awareness and capability in our leaders – our Headteachers – who can now lead this work effectively. And our Wellbeing Champions are energized and equipped to get all employees engaged with our activities… so we’re definitely on our way to covering all the bases!

Mandy Coalter
Director of People, United Learning

We did this by providing toolkits, training and resources (with implementation guided by baseline measurement) and activating it by building a Wellbeing Champions network. We’re now approaching year three and having introduced a new cohort each year we’ll have engaged with nearly half of the group’s population – with the original pilot group continuing to build internal capability that will support the inhouse management of wellbeing across the United Learning Group going forward.