From education to employment

So mental health isn’t your top priority?

Teresa Carroll, National Head for Inclusion, ETF

‘Inspiring learners, changing lives and making a difference’ – is the key motivation for why you work in the Further Education (FE) and Training sector. That’s what 82% of over 4,000 FE and Training professionals said in the Education and Training Foundation’s (ETF) recent listening exercise – a landmark piece of research into the motivations and challenges of working in our sector.

This really doesn’t surprise me at all. Lots of us who have benefited from the FE and Training sector will talk about how it made a huge difference to our lives. And in the many conversations I have with FE and Training professionals, it doesn’t take long before they start to enthuse about their learners and how talented the people coming from our communities are!

The top challenges

Lack of funding (31%) and staff recruitment (19%) came out top as challenges – so no surprises there. What is surprising, however, is that only 9% of those who took part in the listening exercise cited mental health, stress and learner behaviour as their top challenge (although these issues were a key theme of the focus groups). Why am I surprised by this? In pre-Covid times, we all recognised the stress that the constantly changing landscape placed on both staff and learners. And then along came a pandemic – just to throw an extra ingredient into the mix – with an impact that we’re still trying to understand and navigate.

The most recent teacher wellbeing index highlights that 67% of FE and Training professionals described how their stress levels at work had increased in the last year. Even more worryingly across the education system, 47% reported that they always go to work when they are unwell, and 59% were not confident to advise their employers about high levels of work related stress and mental health issues.

The mental health of children and young people in England report 2022

The picture isn’t any better when we consider what’s going on with our learners. The mental health of children and young people in England report 2022 indicated that among 17 to 19 year olds, the proportion with a probable mental disorder increased from 17.4% in 2021 to 25.7% in 2022. The report makes disturbing reading, with significant percentages of our children and young people talking about problems with eating and sleeping; often or always feeling lonely and reporting self-harm.

I highlight these findings, not to paint a dire picture of modern society, but to reinforce the point that it is nothing short of remarkable that our sector continues to produce so many success stories in these challenging circumstances. So how do you do it? 

Leadership is key

We know from previous research into the wellbeing of the sector with the Society for Education and Training (SET) members that leadership is key in ensuring good mental health of both learners and staff. This is something that we recognised as integral to the ETF’s Centres for Excellence in SEND offer. Our Centre at Weston College has a particular focus on supporting the mental health of everyone who works and learns in our sector, and offers sector-led free support to leaders, managers and practitioners on this important theme

Our new inclusive leadership programme

Our new inclusive leadership programme aims to equip leaders with the skills to take a humanistic approach, leading by example so that learners and staff feel safe to talk opening about their mental health. This programme, commissioned by the ETF and delivered by the Association of Colleges, will be complemented by a full range of our new leading in mental health resources. These will enable leaders to tap into the support that they need in this area, and we will be adding to these as they become available. The resources were inspired by and will build on the shared experiences of FE and Training providers’ leaders, pooled during the leadership roundtable held in 2021.

The FE and training sector is known for the support it offers to all those within it. It is creative – bringing together those within the sector with partner organisations, so that together we become greater than the  sum of our parts. One of our partner organisations, Education Support, is dedicated to the mental health of all educators and offers a range of support including a free helpline with access to counsellors if needed. It is so important for you to take care of yourselves to enable you to support your learners.

In order to support your learners, you might like to check out some new resources for the FE and Training sector produced by the Anna Freud Centre on the most common mental health challenges experienced by learners. 

And finally, don’t forget that the ETF and SET, our membership body, is here for you, so if there is something we could be doing, please do get in touch.

By Teresa Carroll, National Head of Inclusion, Education and Training Foundation

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