The urgency of workload and wellbeing

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
Image: iStock

We cannot overstate the urgency of the need for action on teacher workload and wellbeing, says Julian Stanley

Just before the general election, we set out our own “wellbeing manifesto”. This included a call for a measurable health and wellbeing policy to be introduced into every education organisation.

While the fundamental importance of staff welfare is recognised in many schools, it would seem that on the ground, many feel that this recognition has not yet translated into practice.

Seventy-two per cent of respondents in our recently published 2017 YouGov health report – Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Education Profession 2017 – told us they felt they do not receive sufficient guidance about their health and wellbeing at work.

It is a challenge for many employers, both inside and outside education, but there are positive signs that a growing number of school leaders understand the fundamental value of wellbeing practices to the culture of a school – and also that supporting staff to be healthy and motivated sends a strong message to pupils and students about the importance of self-care. It can play a key role in retention, too.

Of course, in a pressurised environment, there are clearly no overnight answers and making time to address wellbeing may seem to some to be a luxury.

However, the link between stress and poor health is becoming increasingly clear. More school leaders are taking the first steps to reviewing and reinvigorating the staff support they may have in place in order to improve retention and attract new staff.

Action by Ofsted could not come soon enough and, though it cannot solve the issue of excessive workload and curriculum pressure alone, it is a good place to start.

A more collaborative approach with school leaders and staff and a change in the approach and nature of inspections could make a significant difference to what so many experience as a stressful burden on top of an already demanding job.

We were encouraged then when, heralding the start of the new academic year last month, head of Ofsted Amanda Spielman signalled a possible shift in approach.

She acknowledged that the inspector might in fact be part of the problem. Speaking in a radio interview, she said: “If we can get so that teacher workload has reduced significantly, I think that we’ve done a big part of the job we should be doing.”

There are secondary schools that have now appointed wellbeing leads to embed the concept into existing development plans – so it features on standing agendas, so policies are reviewed, and so the temperature is checked at regular intervals.

It is important to work out what is making a difference – from guidance and advice on reducing workload to effective CPD, support for managing stress and flexible working practices, wellbeing at its best is approached in a holistic and constructive way.

What cannot be overstated is the urgency of the need for action. Half of teachers (53 per cent) also told us in our research report that they have considered leaving the sector in the last two years due to pressures on their health. Three quarters (77 per cent) gave workload as their top reason.

In comparison to the public sector overall, those working in education are significantly less likely to feel that they achieve the right balance between their work and home lives.

For many who find the job severely affecting their wellbeing, they cannot see a future in the profession.

While the need for systemic change is clear, delivery is dependent on supportive governors and school leaders who recognise and value staff as individuals, and demonstrate that they not only understand the pressures but also point them towards a healthier solution. The promotion of wellbeing enables schools to reap the benefits of a happier, healthier and more robust team whose resilience in tough times will have a demonstrative positive impact across the school.

  • Julian Stanley is the CEO of the Education Support Partnership.

Further information

  • Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Education Profession 2017, Education Support Partnership, September 2017: http://bit.ly/2xtzRlZ
  • For help or advice on any issue, contact the Education Support Partnership’s free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or visit www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk


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