• Isn’t it time the Government prioritised whole school wellbeing for staff and students alongside attainment?

    150 150 Stuart O'Brien

    The stats revealed in the latest Teacher Wellbeing Index 2021 from Education Support shows teacher wellbeing at an all-time low in schools, MATs and colleges, with high levels of stress and mental ill-health there is an exodus of staff from the profession.

    The DfE’s Education Staff Wellbeing Charter illustrates that the Government is becoming aware of the impact poor staff wellbeing is having on the effectiveness of our educational institutions and student outcomes. What needs to be done?

    Here Mark Solomons (pictured, above), CEO, School Wellbeing Accelerator and a highly acclaimed wellbeing expert with over 12 years’ experience developing leadership and culture in UK schools, shares his views on staff wellbeing and the changes he believes need to turn the tide of resignations and create a positive and well supported education system in the UK…

    The latest Teacher Wellbeing Index 2021 from Education Support revealed some truly shocking stats about teacher wellbeing in schools. A survey of 3,000 staff found that in 2021:

    • 77% experience symptoms of poor mental health due to their work
    • 72% are stressed (rising to 84% for senior leaders)
    • 46% always go into work when unwell (rising to 54% for senior leaders)
    • 42% think their organisation’s culture has a negative impact on their wellbeing
    • 54% have considered leaving the sector in the past two years due to pressures on their mental health.

    These are truly alarming figures that will ultimately impact negatively on student wellbeing and attainment  – a conclusion confirmed in a new study by Neena Banerjee of Valdosta State University and three professors from University of North Carolina-Charlotte who reported that students’ reading scores are higher when they are taught by educators reporting high job satisfaction levels.

    Isn’t it time that the Government prioritised whole school wellbeing for staff and students alongside attainment?

    So what can be done?

    I believe that a paradigm shift needs to take place and that staff wellbeing be moved to the top of the agenda and built into the culture of the school – its shared beliefs, attitudes and values.  School development plans should reflect this goal and actively involve all stakeholders in the process. Everyone needs to think carefully about how they communicate and how they support each other.

    There is a desperate need for increased capacity, so middle and senior leaders have time to plan for development. The expectation that leaders can be efficient and effective when juggling teaching duties and leadership roles (for which they typically may be given just 5-6 hours per fortnight), is absurd and would not be expected in equivalent positions in the commercial sector. With little to no time to plan, school leadership becomes reactive rather than proactive.

    Turn this around and there is the opportunity to move forward. Leaders can be afforded time to develop their own skills and knowledge and be better equipped to lead others. There will be time to carefully consider and plan the needs of staff, how best to support them and provide meaningful CPD, and as a result reduce the stress many feel and improve their wellbeing and performance. It will also provide time to better engage with parents, build relationships and authentic partnerships.

    Staff wellbeing is used by many commercial companies as an indicator for performance. Rather than increase levels of stress with the threat of punitive inspections, could OFSTED encourage staff wellbeing in schools by including it as a key priority in their criteria for success?

    The DfE’s Education Staff Wellbeing Charter illustrates that the Government is becoming aware of the impact poor staff wellbeing has on the effectiveness of schools, colleges and MATs and the outcomes they achieve for their students. The fact that it is voluntary means it will not be universally adopted. Highlighting 11 school commitments to follow, some requiring significant change and without additional resources, will also significantly undermine its impact. However, it is a step in the right direction towards building a fully professional education sector, fit for the 21st century.

    We are currently caught in a Catch 22 situation. To improve the wellbeing of staff we need to increase capacity in schools, meaning increased funding for more teachers and giving more time to leaders. Yet in order to increase capacity we need to attract talented staff, develop them effectively and reduce the current exodus of staff leaving due to poor mental health, stress and wellbeing.

    Lockdown briefly highlighted and heralded teachers, as parents dealt with home schooling, yet compared to other countries, teachers in the UK are vastly underappreciated. The Government needs to actively elevate the standing of the teaching profession, better support all staff and applaud the job they are currently doing, delivering an education for our young people, against all the odds.


    Stuart O'Brien

    All stories by: Stuart O'Brien

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