Peterhouse is a specialist school for children and young people on the autism spectrum. All pupils have special educational needs and many present with challenging behaviours. A significant proportion of pupils have mental health issues. Supporting these complex pupils can result in a challenging work environment for staff.
A wellbeing action plan informed by a staff survey
The school prides itself on its support of each pupil’s individual needs. Pupils can access a school counsellor and there is an emphasis on confidence and self-esteem. However, many staff felt their needs were being overlooked and morale seemed low. To address this, the school ran a Wellbeing Project, forming a Wellbeing Team and developing an action plan, guided by ‘Time to Change’. Peterhouse made a ‘Time to Change’ employers pledge in January 2017 to demonstrate its commitment to staff wellbeing.
Staff at all levels supported the initiative. An initial staff survey informed the action plan, and a follow-up survey 4 months later monitored progress. The surveys were based on Mind’s advice on ‘taking stock of mental health in the workplace’.
The actions the school has taken in order to support staff wellbeing include:
• Extending school counsellor services to staff
• A comprehensive training programme, with an Inset day on mental health for all staff and further training for selected staff, for example in Mental Health First Aid
• Two staff acting as Employee Champions
• Awareness raising initiatives such as noticeboards and Time to Talk Day
• Making staff aware of the support available, including the Employee Assistance Programme
• Regular meetings of the Wellbeing Team to monitor progress and plan further actions
Peterhouse feels that its work on wellbeing has had a big impact, with improved staff morale and a greater willingness to come forward with issues and seek help when needed, as well as positive comments from Ofsted about retention and the support staff receive.
To build on this work, Peterhouse has applied for the ‘Wellbeing Award for Schools’. Toward this, the school carried out another staff wellbeing survey last year which showed further improvement. Its current development focus is on more advanced training for selected staff, improving parental engagement and support, and reviewing pupil voice mechanisms. The school is also looking to strengthen links to other schools and networks, to share ideas and good practice.