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Supporting mental health in a struggling school

View from a head teacher

As an experienced headteacher of secondary schools and having worked in different types of schools as a senior leader, I am aware that there is no "one size fits all" model for staff wellbeing. My most challenging experience with staff wellbeing was leading a school judged Inadequate by Ofsted.

Initially, staff faced an inordinate amount of pressure from inspections by both the Department for Education and Ofsted, as well as a great deal of media and political interference. There was a huge financial deficit to sort out, with an accompanying staff restructure. In an atmosphere of such high accountability and pressure, it was unrealistic to expect staff to speak freely about their mental health to line managers. In this context, as a senior team we took the decision to invest in a Staff Welfare Officer who was not a member of the accountability structure but who was given the same pay and resourcing as a subject leader. Members of staff were able to speak confidentially to the Staff Welfare Officer, who could signpost to other resources if necessary. One such resource involved a further investment. We commissioned Worklife Support (now Education Support). This service provided staff with a confidential helpline, and although I received a report telling me how many times the service had been used, staff using the service remained anonymous. Five days of free face-to face counselling per staff member was included, as well as support with family life, finances, health and work-life balance. A representative from Worklife Support attended every Inset Day to remind staff of the services on offer. Finally, another effective offer to teaching staff was the opportunity for their lessons to be covered by a member of the senior team so they could work from home; this helped significantly with planning and marking. The school was eventually judged Outstanding by Ofsted by which time there was a much greater distribution of leadership throughout the organisation. Staff themselves came up with solutions for staff wellbeing, either as individuals or within their teams, and they were less wary about speaking to their line mangers about mental health.