How to Promote Staff Wellbeing in Schools

January 12, 2023
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Wellbeing is the state of feeling happy and healthy. It encompasses our overall health, including our cognitive, physical and emotional health. If our level of wellbeing is good, we are much more likely to be motivated, engaged and productive. Good wellbeing is also associated with higher levels of resilience and therefore helps us to cope better when faced with challenges.

A teacher’s general wellbeing can be heavily influenced by the demands and pressures of the role. It can be affected by conditions relating to both the job and the profession, such as exam board changes, increased workloads and managing behaviour that challenges.

According to a 2019 Ofsted report on teacher wellbeing, ‘self-reported wellbeing at work is generally low or moderate.’ High workload, a lack of work life balance, and a perceived lack of support from leaders were found to be contributing factors to teachers’ wellbeing.  

Self-reported wellbeing at work is generally low or moderate. Positive factors – such as school culture and relationships with colleagues – contribute to teachers’ wellbeing. However, they are counterbalanced by negative factors, such as high workload, lack of work–life balance, a perceived lack of resources and a perceived lack of support from leaders, especially for managing pupils.

Ofsted, 2019

In this article, we will define teacher wellbeing, outline the state of wellbeing in schools, explain the importance of good teacher wellbeing and provide tips to support teacher mental health in schools.

What is Teacher Wellbeing?

Occupational wellbeing refers to our ability to live our lives as closely as possible to the way we would like to. Good wellbeing at work is associated with meeting potential, developing strong relationships, and doing things we consider important or worthwhile.

Teacher wellbeing relates to all aspects of working life, including the quality and safety of the daily environment, the climate at work and how teachers feel about both their school and the profession. Workload, relationships with colleagues, levels of connectedness and motivation, the work culture and physical environment, and sense of purpose can all help to shape a teacher’s wellbeing.

These elements are interrelated and finely balanced, and are often influenced by the individual’s personal experiences. A report by Leeds Beckett University found that it can often be a crisis in a teacher’s personal life, such as relationship difficulties, family bereavement and childcare issues which ‘tips them over the edge.’

Teachers and headteachers continue to experience increased mental health and wellbeing issues and, according to teaching unions, the impacts are becoming more challenging.

What is the State of Wellbeing in Schools?

We remain a profession with amongst the highest number of unpaid working hours, and we are still well above the international average for hours worked by teachers. This is simply unsustainable.

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the NEU

Sadly, over a third of England’s teachers who qualified in the last decade have since left the profession, and 17% of teachers in England who qualified since December 2019 left the profession within two years. These figures are even more concerning when considered alongside postgraduate teacher recruitment numbers, which were 29% below target in the 2022/23 academic year.

The ten education unions within the British and Irish Group of Teacher Unions (BIGTU) believe that the long and stressful working hours associated with teaching are causing a recruitment and retention crisis. The Trades Union Congress, the TUC, found in 2022 that, as in previous years, the teaching profession has one of the highest rates of unpaid overtime in the UK. Education unions remain concerned about the impact these conditions are having on teacher wellbeing.

A 2022 survey by the NASUWT, based on data collected from 11,857 teachers in the UK, found that:

  • 90% of teachers have experienced more work-related stress in the last 12 months, causing increased anxiety (87%) and sleep loss (82%).
  • 91% report that their job has adversely affected their mental health in the last 12 months.
  • 64% report that their job has adversely affected their physical health in the last 12 months.  
  • 78% report that they do not have access to workspaces that promote wellbeing.

A similar 2022 survey by Education Support concluded that stress, depression and anxiety have all remained at an ‘unsustainably high level’, resulting in long-term health implications for the education workforce.

Why is Teacher Wellbeing Important?

Teacher wellbeing is a vital component in creating healthy and happy schools and colleges. It is important because it:

  • Helps to boost morale and productivity.
  • Helps to build resilience, leaving staff more equipped to manage their emotions and recognise when they might need to seek help.
  • Promotes positive health behaviours.
  • Leaves staff feeling more valued, connected and respected.
  • Reduces staff absence.
  • Influences the wellbeing and mental health of other staff.
  • Helps schools and colleges to retain good teachers. (You can find out more about teacher recruitment and retention strategies here.)
  • Allows staff to feel more able and confident in supporting their pupils’ wellbeing.  
  • Helps to improve educational and mental health outcomes for pupils, as staff who feel cared for and looked after will produce better results. (You can find out more about promoting positive mental health in schools here.)
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CPD for Teachers

Find out more about our range of education courses for teachers and support staff. Discover titles such as Child Mental Health Training and Mental Health Training for Teachers (which focuses on the mental health of teachers).

Tips for Supporting Staff Wellbeing in Schools

The simple fact is that we are failing. Our children and young people deserve so much more from us. It is time to invest in the workforce and to remove the well documented drivers of significant stress in the system.

Sinéad McBrearty, CEO of Education Support

Employers have a legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees. This includes their wellbeing and mental health. Schools should also take reasonable steps to prevent work-related stress. The effectiveness of the school’s measures will be considered as part of Ofsted inspections.

So, what can schools do to support staff wellbeing? Here are our top tips:

Make wellbeing a priority

Senior leaders in schools should be aware of the many benefits of prioritising staff wellbeing – as not doing so can result in substantial human and financial cost. Assessing positive case studies from other schools where staff wellbeing has been prioritised, looking at the financial return in investment, and working with staff to find out what actions they would like to see as part of a wellbeing improvement plan will help leaders to gain a secure understanding of the importance of wellbeing in schools.

Leaders can also use the government’s Education Staff Wellbeing Charter to show staff that they are taking wellbeing seriously. This charter outlines a set of commitments to support the mental health and wellbeing of all those who work in education. The guidance, co-created by education unions, mental health charities and the Department for Education, can be used by leaders at any stage of their staff wellbeing journey. You can find out more about the charter here.

Improve the culture in school

Once senior leaders choose to prioritise employee wellbeing, their vision and goals should be clearly communicated to staff. Creating the mental health and wellbeing policy should be done in collaboration with all staff. This will help to build a sense of belonging and community, where employees feel part of the school’s strategy and mission. It will also help to nurture a psychologically safe and secure workplace, where staff feel valued and cared for.

Working in a supportive, nurturing and inclusive environment has a demonstrable impact on staff wellbeing, so it is vital that all staff treat each other with warmth and respect. Staff working within education have incredibly high standards for the children they work with, whether this be regarding uniform, standards of behaviour or attitude towards learning. All staff, therefore, should aim to uphold these high standards when communicating with one another. It is also vital that children see the values expected of them being modelled by their teachers.

Teaching can be an incredibly rewarding yet demanding role. Being appreciated by senior leaders can be highly beneficial to all those who work in schools. Recognising employee achievements, celebrating individual and joint successes, and acknowledging their continued effort will also help staff to feel more connected and supported within the school community.

Teaching is a tough job. It can be immensely rewarding but also physically and emotionally draining. Safeguarding and mental health issues can be intense and complex. Children’s behavioural and emotional problems are increasing.

Professor Peter Fonagy, CEO of the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families

Encourage continuous learning

Leaders can help to create a culture in school that prioritises learning, for staff as well as pupils.  

Quality professional development opportunities allow people to look up and out. A journey of continuous learning helps staff to stay informed and inspired. It also provides staff with the confidence and knowledge needed to tackle challenging experiences effectively. Relevant professional development opportunities can also help to boost job satisfaction and allow staff to feel more optimistic about the profession.

Professional development plans can empower staff to develop their skills in areas which are most relevant to their career and interests. You can download a free professional development plan here.

Completing quality mental health training for staff will also help all those working within the school community to prioritise their wellbeing. Training should outline why wellbeing is so important, both personally and professionally, and help staff to recognise the signs which may suggest they need help.

However, 48% of respondents in the aforementioned NASUWT survey stated that their school does not have staff wellbeing/mental health training in place. Providing quality training is a fundamental step if schools wish to feel the benefits of improved staff wellbeing.

Remove the stigma

When the benefits of prioritising staff wellbeing are so clear, it is essential that senior leaders aim to break down any existing stigma attached to mental illness right across the school community. They can do this through professional development opportunities, anti-stigma training for staff, pupils and the wider community, and by sharing information and advice during briefings and whole-staff meetings. Senior leaders can also consider giving staff the opportunity to become wellbeing champions in the school, whose role it is to promote the benefits of self-care and a good work life balance.  

Give staff a voice

Providing people with psychological autonomy can help to support wellbeing. Feeling heard is not only an essential part of an inclusive democracy, it also supports healthy self-development.

Leadership teams in schools should encourage staff to speak up and suggest solutions. As well as giving staff the safe spaces in which to share their ideas, leaders should also aim to validate these ideas and be seen to act upon them where possible.

Leadership teams could begin by conducting staff wellbeing audits to help gauge a sense of their employees’ current wellbeing. Survey feedback could be collected anonymously if leaders are embarking upon a big culture change in school. Communicating broad findings and patterns, and explaining how these will be addressed, will help to build support amongst staff.

It is also important for leaders to nurture a ‘saying no is ok’ ethos. As the teaching profession is multifaceted and encompasses so many duties and responsibilities, staff can easily become overwhelmed if they say yes to everything. Helping staff to recognise when they have ‘reached full capacity’ is vital if leadership teams wish to prioritise staff wellbeing.

Eliminate unnecessary workload

52% of respondents involved in the NASUWT teacher wellbeing survey stated that workload has been the main factor for increased work-related stress.

To help remove unnecessary workload, leaders should focus carefully on what works in their setting. If staff are doing something which has little or no impact, leaders should question its value. They can also give staff the gift of time by removing tick box exercises which do not actively contribute towards the school’s mission. They can review their email policy in order to set clear expectations for what constitutes responsible email use, and check the marking policy to ensure that current practice is impactful and beneficial to pupils.

Provide staff with comfortable areas to take a break

The NASUWT Teacher Wellbeing survey found that 63% of respondents do not have access to a safe and comfortable space to take time out and debrief outside the classroom environment.

Community and connection are key mental health protective factors. Being able to refocus, chat with colleagues, and take some time away from the classroom will help staff to focus on their wellbeing. Providing employees with a dedicated relaxation area also shows staff that leaders are committed to supporting employee mental health.

Embrace flexible working

Flexible working can help staff to gain greater control of their work life balance. Greater flexibility gives employees the chance to better manage their caring responsibilities, pursue other interests and prioritise their wellbeing. Flexible working can help to support the retention of experienced members of staff and reduce staff absenteeism. It can also be an attractive prospect for many future employees.

In research carried out in 2019 by Education Support, 74% of senior leaders who had implemented flexible working in their school felt that these arrangements had helped staff to manage their workload and their work life balance.

There are numerous ways to embrace flexible working in schools, including through part-time working, job share appointments, staggered hours and the school’s on and off-site working policy.

Demonstrate positive wellbeing

In order to fully promote the importance of staff wellbeing, employees should be encouraged to look after themselves. There are numerous ways that leaders can encourage staff to focus on and nurture their wellbeing. This could be through enforcing a ‘no marking’ weekend, setting up a charity walking challenge, sharing healthy recipes, recommending self-care podcasts or simply giving staff the opportunity to reflect upon what they are most proud of so far this term. This last point is particularly poignant as learning to celebrate ourselves and our achievements, however small they may seem, can help to boost our own sense of wellbeing.  

Provide specialist support

In their Supporting Staff Wellbeing in Schools booklet, the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families outlines how schools can improve and respond to staff wellbeing and mental health. Their three-tiered approach allows schools to focus on the universal, everyday measures they are taking to improve staff wellbeing, such as wellbeing policies. More targeted support can be given as and when needed, in the form of additional training or bespoke events or insets. Specialist support should then be given to colleagues who require it. This could be in the form of crisis support, an employee assistance programme or a referral to occupational health.

Prioritising staff wellbeing can have innumerable benefits, from boosting morale and productivity to improving educational outcomes. With the teacher retention crisis and levels of work-related stress continuing to worsen in the UK, prioritising staff wellbeing in schools has never been more important. Encouraging staff voice, creating a culture of continuous learning for all and eliminating unnecessary workloads are just some of the strategies that leaders can implement to help promote and prioritise staff wellbeing.  

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