Is the new Department for Education wellbeing charter worth the paper it’s printed on?
It is more important than ever that wellbeing and mental health are at the forefront of education policy (Nick Gibb)
As an exhausted deputy headteacher, I remember vividly when the Department for Education first promised to tackle teacher workload in England (2014/5). I was so relieved and excited by the commitment from the government, and eventually from Ofsted, that I wrote about their pledge and what I could do.
Remember the workload challenge?
The Department for Education quoted my analysis of their work and referenced the 5-Minute Lesson Plan (see first bullet point) on their one-page list of recommendations as a great tool for reducing teacher workload.
On my watch, I continued to work hard to reduced teacher workload in the schools I led. I shared resources and strategies with others. Where I visited other schools, I signposted their great policies and wellbeing initiatives.
Although the department conducted teacher workforce surveys (with 3 successful committees producing lesson planning, marking and data management recommendations for schools to use, in 2016/17, I started to believe I was flogging a dead horse. At the end of this process, we all got a shiny poster for our staff rooms…
A wellbeing charter
Fast forward 7 years, we now have an education staff wellbeing charter.
In the autumn of 2021, schools will be able to sign up for this. At least there is one thing that can be guaranteed for teachers, is that the schools that do signup will signal to their teachers if they are committed to supporting their mental health. For teachers, this will be helpful to those who seek employment, and which to avoid. Whether Ofsted can evaluate this and schools can genuinely deliver on a tight budget, the proof will be in the pudding.
I’ve been researching teacher workload for almost a decade. You’ll find much of my commentary throughout this entire website, with a deeper look at the Teacher Workforce Survey (TWS) which is published every three years.
Workload remains the most important work-related factor determining wellbeing and still the number one reason why teachers leave the profession. When you conduct an analysis between independent and state school teachers, both types of teachers, work on average, at least 50 hours per week during term time. When you dig a little further, school leaders can work between 55 to 80 hours per week, during term time.
Remarkably, prior to the pandemic, teacher workload was improving! New research suggests that teachers are working fewer hours. No doubt, COVID-19 has changed all of this.
The new wellbeing promise
So, what does the new Department for Education wellbeing charter say?
“…a declaration of support for, and set of commitments to, the wellbeing and mental health of everyone working in education.”
- There’s a detailed pamphlet of the charter which I have evaluated below.
- There is a school poster and a poster from the DfE with a summary of promises.
- Ofsted has committed to 3 wellbeing promises!
Department for Education’s promises
If you can skip past another foreword by Nick Gibb (Where is Gavin?), a powerful promise on page 2 is something we all should commit to, regardless of any charter.
We want to see a sector that is free from mental health discrimination, guided by emotional intelligence, and characterised by supportive, nurturing cultures.
Looking through the charter, it is good to see some schools have been part of the consultation, as well as all the education unions committing to the principles. The department state that they will support the sector to drive down unnecessary workload.
Every teacher I talk to says that they need more time. More cash for schools will unlock this. Time for planning. Time for marking books in school, not on your kitchen table. Fewer data collections for a looming inspection and reduced contact time will make a difference to the profession.
There is a growing abundance of research, and many politicians will tell you that paying teachers more, or investing in our schools, does not improve performance. A world-class education system on a shoestring will never eradicate teacher attrition, or reduce increasing teacher mental health.
- Ensure that inspectors take staff wellbeing into account in coming to their judgements…
- Review whether the framework is having inadvertent impacts on staff wellbeing…
- Continue to clarify that we do not expect providers to create documentation for inspection…
On the above points:
- What questions will inspectors ask? Will teacher-voice be heard?
- At present, there is no formal plan to inspect this! The DfE write on page 8 of the charter: “Wellbeing is subjective (but it can be measured).”
- Did you know, that the Ofsted mythbusters webpage (2015) is no longer available? I have not yet found a new version for the education inspection framework (2019). I have asked and waiting for a reply…
Resources from me
- Here are 3 easy but hard ideas to implement across a school.
- 12 steps to reduce workload (with slides)
- The five-minute workload plan
- Workload and wellbeing checklist self-evaluation, and
- Mark Plan Teach 2.0 – my book which is solely focused on wellbeing and workload strategy.
Based on the DfE’s wellbeing charter, I’ll write a follow-up post on the commitments a school can implement against all the external pressures and forces they each face. I know when I share snippets of this blog on social media, critics will think I have a huge chip on my shoulder. This is simply not true.
I want the highest standards, and Ofsted and the DfE play a key role in supporting our schools to achieve this. However, it has to be supported by rigorous government policy, and in terms of mental health and wellbeing, we simply aren’t there yet…
Wellbeing is a shared responsibility. This includes the Department for Education, Ofsted and our school leaders working together to eliminate the drivers with escalate teacher mental health issues.