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Teacher wellbeing – Schools must prioritise it now, or pay later

Schools need to put teacher wellbeing at the heart of everything they do now, or deal with the consequences down the line, says Louise Smith...

  • Teacher wellbeing – Schools must prioritise it now, or pay later

Teaching is a hugely rewarding profession, but it also has its pressures, and these can seriously affect wellbeing.

Ofsted added to the growing research into this area with its own inquiry, published in the summer.

As well as finding that its own inspections were one of the reasons for poor teacher wellbeing, along with parent relations and unsupportive senior leaders, the report concluded that although teachers overwhelmingly love their profession, the positives were outweighed by high workloads, poor work-life balance, a perceived lack of resources and too little support from leaders, particularly when it came to managing bad behaviour.

At our trust of six primary schools in Warrington and the surrounding area we have placed the wellbeing of our staff at the centre of everything that we do.

We’ve taken a multi-stranded approach to protecting and promoting wellbeing. Firstly, we are constantly scanning for signs of stress and poor wellbeing through our regular staff surveys. The survey, which is based on the Better Place to Work programme, has been part of trust life since we launched in 2016.

The programme consists of an anonymous staff survey that allows colleagues to say how they are feeling in a range of measures, including motivation, making a difference, conflict and feedback.

Our aim is to have all areas with a score of five or above. That leads to a green on the grid, indicating a high degree of staff wellbeing. Ambers and red, as you would expect, indicate low or poor levels of wellbeing.

The results can be analysed on an individual school basis as well as for different cross-trust teams, such as the senior leadership team, teaching assistants and teachers.

The wellbeing survey is carried out every three months. It works because it gives everyone an opportunity to say exactly how they are feeling and be confident that their views will be anonymous.

The survey would be an empty exercise if the results weren’t used to trigger action. We noticed in one survey that the ‘feeling valued’ measure had not moved on from the previous survey and that our leadership team had scored that area the lowest.

That prompted us to hold an activity in which each SLT member was invited to write short, supportive comments that expressed their thanks to each of their colleagues so that at the end of the activity each had an envelope containing a collection of six messages.

It was a simple, quick activity but it gave everyone an opportunity to tell colleagues how much they valued them. And it helped: at the next survey that stagnant result had improved noticeably.

The Better Place to Work survey was set up with support from a coach called Chris Whitely, who pointed out that while we were good at making sure that our parents were happy, we rarely asked staff how they felt about their jobs.

We were conscious about giving our staff another paper exercise, so we decided to do the survey online and make sure that it took just three to four minutes to complete.

And because the survey is online, it makes it easy to interpret the data in various ways so that we can work out which teams might need more support, either in individual schools or across the trust.

As well as alerting you to where wellbeing issues might be developing, it also means that we can work out which teams are happiest. We can then pair those teams up so that they can learn from, and support, each other.

We also provide mental health training for every staff member so that they can recognise when things are getting on top of them or their colleagues – and where they can go for help.

Our mental health first aiders – members of staff trained to support colleagues and signpost extra help and support if they need it – are often the first port of call for anyone wanting confidential support.

The simple things are often just as valuable as surveys and training when it comes to making people feel supported. It’s about simply recognising that we are all real human beings who live busy, often pressured lives which aren’t just about our jobs, however much we love what we do.

Having a kind word for a colleague, perhaps expressing thanks for a job well done, doesn’t need a strategy or a plan, and it can make a world of difference to colleagues who are under pressure.


Louise Smith is CEO of Warrington Primary Academy Trust, a MAT consisting of six primary schools in the Warrington area. Find out more at wpat.warrington.sch.uk.

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