With workplace stress in schools continuing to command headlines, Mandy Gallagher, Head of Nursing at Schools Advisory Service, looks at the steps some heads and teachers have taken to manage the problem, and offers some advice of her own…
Worries about the impact of stress and workload on education professionals have been simmering away for some years now, but there are signs that the issue is coming to a head.
A cluster of recent surveys have helped sharpen awareness of the issues. An NASUWT poll in spring this revealed that 84% said their job had a negative effect on their health and wellbeing, with a similar number experiencing more workplace stress during the preceding 12 months.
To explore how can schools tackle stress and workload and promote greater wellbeing, last month I hosted a wellbeing workshop to discuss practical ways schools can promote wellbeing.
The workshop heard from one delegate, a school business manager, who said, “We want children full of joy and optimism, but teachers are constantly under pressure from accountability and working hours, and they have their own families to manage.”
Another delegate, a primary head, added, “There’s a perception through the press that if a teacher isn’t performing then they’re a rubbish teacher. The thought that they are tired, ill or stressed isn’t considered. If they’re not looked after, they won’t be able to perform their roles to the best of their abilities.”
More school leaders are now considering the role they have to play in supporting their teams – including referring staff to timely and relevant external support services when required. At Schools Advisory Service, for example, our nursing team offers schools a range of services including lifestyle health screening, absence support, stress awareness and cancer and menopause support. These services have helped participating schools reduce staff absences and achieve a better culture of staff wellbeing.
The workshop delegates agreed that such services were a valuable tool, especially when complemented by in-school solutions. There was agreement that the bedrock for staff well-being is a culture in which staff are able to support each other, and in which leaders can provide confidential and supportive conversations, with signposting to support.
One head in attendance noted that granting staff more control in managing wellbeing was also important, describing how, “We’ve established a wellbeing group made up of staff who look at issues like staff absence. The group has written an absenteeism policy and handles absence requests from staff.”
The delegates further agreed on importance of properly managing the return of staff previously signed off on long-term absence. In-depth conversations with returnees focused on support were found to have been helpful, as were ‘therapeutic returns’, whereby give staff are given a gradual, supported introduction back to full-time work.
There was also acknowledgment among the delegates that although it was vital for leaders to promote staff wellbeing, they often neglected to look after themselves. The group discussed how leaders in larger schools could often call on support from their strategic leadership team or perhaps a mentor, but that this was less likely in smaller schools.
However, they conceded that the growing number of federations and teaching school alliances presented an opportunity for smaller schools to develop similar types of support networks. One example cited was that of a primary teaching school alliance in the East Midlands, which had created a pastoral mentor role to support teachers and leaders across the alliance.
Another key theme to emerge was that of ‘working smarter’. One delegate suggested that leaders and teachers should use weekly staff briefings to identify five specific tasks that didn’t necessarily need doing that week, and to agree on key areas where staff could help each other and avoid replicating effort.
8 steps towards developing a culture of staff wellbeing
• Give a senior leadership team member responsibility for championing staff wellbeing; make sure colleagues know that they can discuss their concerns in confidence and are aware of the support available to them
• Provide regular reports on wellbeing to school governors
• Track staff wellbeing through regular questionnaires
• Set up a wellbeing committee – but don’t micro-manage it
• Invest in interventions such as health screening and insurance and embed these in the school development plan
• Give your team access to CPD and personal development that develops their skills and passions, while enabling them to make a full contribution to school development
• Celebrate the successes of both individuals and the team as a whole
• Consider short-term flexible working arrangements where appropriate
Mandy Gallagher is Head of Nursing at Schools Advisory Service, a specialist provider of insurance services to the education sector that currently works with over 3500 across the country. For more information, visit www.schooladvice.co.uk.
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