Creating a positive culture in your school

Written by: Sophie Howells | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Teaching is the fourth most stressful job there is according to the Health and Safety Executive. Sophie Howells looks at how a positive school culture can protect teacher and staff wellbeing

Last year, more than 3,750 teachers were signed off work on long-term sick leave due to stress (Moran, 2018). At the same time, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE, 2018) moved teaching to number four in the list of the UK’s most stressful jobs.

This was reflected by our latest Teacher Wellbeing Index findings (Education Support Partnership, 2018), which reported rising levels of anxiety, depression and irritability among the teaching profession.
So what can teachers and school leaders practically do to help influence or develop a positive school culture?

Regular check-ins

Check in on your own and your team’s wellbeing on a regular basis. It is crucial for school leaders to gain regular feedback from their staff and act on any suggestions for how team wellbeing could be improved with better support. We recommend using the HSE’s management standards for stress (covering demands, control, support, relationships, role and change – see further information) to measure workplace wellbeing. For those in leadership roles, this will help identify the key issues that may be affecting staff wellbeing and allow informed decisions and changes to be made.

External support

Set up access to confidential external support. According to the Teacher Wellbeing Index, just a fifth (21 per cent) of teachers currently have access to an Employee Assistance Programme (which can include responsive face-to-face counselling). This is very low compared to other sectors.

Helping or encouraging teachers to get in touch with the right support at an early stage can avoid problems escalating and help to reduce staff absence. The Education Support Partnership’s free, confidential helpline staffed by accredited counsellors offers those working in education “in-the-moment” support as well as up to six sessions of structured telephone counselling.

Senior leadership wellbeing

Our Teacher Wellbeing Index also found that 65 per cent of senior leaders have considered leaving the sector in the past two years due to health pressures. In secondary schools, more than one in three school leaders have left.

Leading by example, senior leaders should demonstrate self-care and feel supported to address the issues and pressures of the role. There have been encouraging recent evaluations highlighting the impact of external services such as facilitated peer-to-peer support, coaching or professional supervision.

Early career teachers

Our research shows that NQTs and those working in education for under five years are significantly more likely to experience a mental health problem compared to their colleagues. The government’s recent Early Career Framework (ECF) outlines a number of positive recommendations (DfE, 2019), although we would also encourage schools to consider additional training and development for NQTs around resilience and self-efficacy – things that are essential due to the emotional and relational aspects of the teaching role.

Personal lives matter too

Of 9,615 helpline cases managed by our counsellors in the last financial year, 5,283 were related to personal issues, such as bereavement, trauma, relationship breakdown, isolation, anxiety or financial pressures.

The impact of personal issues on individual wellbeing, sickness rates and school culture is significant, with ramifications for teacher performance and wider pupil outcomes. Access to external, professional support as exists in other areas of the public sector, can go a long way to helping teachers feel supported.

Keep wellbeing on the agenda

Make your own and your team’s wellbeing a key priority by suggesting that is included as a regular item on meeting agendas. This will ensure it is given the status it deserves and allow for decisions to be made that can be preventative rather than reactive.

  • Sophie Howells works with the Education Support Partnership.

Further information & resources


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