Staff wellbeing – it’s on school leaders' minds
All this week, the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families together with Teacher Tapp are conducting a consultation examining the mental health and wellbeing of thousands of teachers across the country. To mark this initiative we are publishing pieces from teachers, authors, experts and activists to get their thoughts and experience of the mental health and wellbeing of school staff.
One of the fundamental aims of school leadership is to help schools be places where all staff can thrive and feel confident. School leaders want to ensure all staff are treated with fairness, equity, dignity and honesty and enable them to be the best that they can be. Creating this culture can have a hugely positive impact on the mental health, happiness and motivation of all school staff and, as a result, on the whole school community.
All staff working in schools want to give our children the very best that they can. Working with children and young people can be both physically and emotionally draining. Most staff are working at capacity already, with no room to step up a gear if needed. Gaps in staffing, funding issues, accountability, curriculum and assessment changes all put additional pressure onto staff.
Currently there is a big focus on children’s mental health and wellbeing which is absolutely right. However, the success of a whole school approach to promoting and supporting good mental wellbeing in schools relies on teachers, non-teaching staff and school leaders being supported to maintain their own mental wellbeing – a point which went unrecognised in the government's green paper. But if staff are to be expected to model a positive approach to mental health and wellbeing, then schools must be places where staff wellbeing is also a priority.
With no specific government initiatives or support being provided specifically to support staff wellbeing, school leaders and their staff are working together to create a better working environment in their schools, taking active steps to support the mental wellbeing of all staff.
Workload is recognised as a key driver of stress, lower levels of wellbeing and poor work-life balance. It is unsurprising therefore that this is a focus for many school leaders – looking critically at what is being done and identifying what can be stopped, reduced or done more efficiently, particularly with regard to planning, marking and tracking. Keeping staff with the same year group for several years, allowing PPA to be taken at home, encouraging flexi-working, developing a policy of not responding to emails after work or at weekends; all with the aim of giving staff some time and capacity back and improving work-life balance.
But there are many other strategies too. Many schools fund access to counselling for their staff, either via telephone or face to face. Staff wellbeing groups have been created to lead the schools' approach. Wellbeing weeks and buddy systems are popular, with members of staff paired up to look out for and support each other.
Mental wellbeing is becoming a more open topic of conversation in schools and policies are not only focused on children, but staff too. There is much more to be done, but staff wellbeing is on school leader’s minds.
Sarah Hannafin is Policy Advisor at NAHT, and is the organisation’s policy lead on curriculum, assessment and pupil wellbeing issues. Following two years as a teaching assistant, Sarah completed her PGCE in religious studies and spent the first five years of her career working in schools in the London Borough of Hillingdon (as a teacher and then as a head of department). After relocating to the south coast for a further head of department role, she was promoted to assistant head teacher in 2008. Her seven years as a senior leader, including two as deputy head, enabled her to focus on her key interests, including pastoral support, safeguarding and teaching and learning. Sarah left her career in teaching to join NAHT in 2015.