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

Mark Solomons, CEO of School Wellbeing Accelerator

Mark Solomons, CEO of School Wellbeing Accelerator, a highly acclaimed wellbeing expert, with over 12 years’ experience developing leadership and culture in UK schools and colleges, shares his views on staff wellbeing and the changes needed to create a positive and well supported education system in the UK:

The latest Teacher Wellbeing Index 2021 from Education Support, revealed some truly shocking statistics about teacher wellbeing in the UK.

The survey of 3,000 staff found that in 2021:

  • 77% experienced 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, and
  • 54% have considered leaving the sector in the past two years due to pressures on their mental health.

These are truly alarming figures, and ultimately impact negatively on student wellbeing and attainment – research shows that student wellbeing mirrors teacher and lecturer wellbeing1 with mentally healthy educational settings achieving subsequent gains in attainment.

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

So what can be done?

A paradigm shift needs to take place with staff wellbeing moved to the top of the agenda and built into the culture of every college – the shared beliefs, attitudes and values. College 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, to enable middle and senior leaders 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, college leadership becomes reactive rather than proactive.

Turn this around, increase capacity, 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 for the needs of staff, how best to support them and provide meaningful CPD, and as a result reduce the stress many feel, improving wellbeing and performance.

Staff wellbeing is used by many commercial companies as an indicator for performance. Rather than increasing levels of stress with the threat of punitive inspections, could OFSTED encourage staff wellbeing in colleges by including it as a key priority in their criteria for success, rather than simply one part of their Leadership and Management Judgement.

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, student outcomes and achievement. The fact that it is voluntary means it will not be universally adopted.

Highlighting 11 college commitments to follow – some requiring significant change, without providing support or additional resources – will also significantly undermine its impact. However, colleges can at least make a start and prioritise those commitments that focus directly on leadership and building the right culture and effectively measuring their current position.

Despite the need for much greater support, it is at least 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 staff wellbeing we need to increase capacity in colleges, meaning increased funding to provide more teachers to give more time to leaders.
  • Yet in order to increase capacity we need to attract talented staff, develop them effectively and stem the current exodus of staff leaving due to poor mental health, stress and wellbeing.

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.

Mark Solomons, CEO of School Wellbeing Accelerator

1 Is teachers’ mental health and wellbeing associated with students’ mental health and wellbeing? – ScienceDirect

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