What can a school do to genuinely support staff mental health and workload?
Schools that define their vision, prioritise a safe working environment, one which is secure and supports all school staff to have healthy working relationship, thrive more than others…
The Department for Education recently published a wellbeing charter to improve the mental health and wellbeing of teachers and support staff in our schools and colleges. Inside the charter, there are 11 ‘organisational commitments’ your school or college can do. I’ve listed them below with some potential suggestions you can take.
11 organisational commitments your school needs to meet
- Prioritise staff mental health
- Give staff the support they need to take responsibility for their own and other people’s wellbeing
- Give managers access to the tools and resources they need to support the wellbeing of those they line manage
- Establish a clear communications policy
- Give staff a voice in decision-making
- Drive down any unnecessary workload
- Champion flexible working and diversity
- Create a good behaviour culture
- Support staff to progress in their careers
- Include a sub-strategy for protecting leader well-being and mental health
- Hold ourselves accountable, including by measuring staff wellbeing
All of the above are desirable.
Where possible, I am going to avoid the words ‘time’ and ‘money’ and offer some practical solutions.
11 possible solutions and ideas…
- This is a tough one because it starts at the top and requires our school leaders to also talk about their mental health publicly. We have a long way to go in terms of breaking stigma, assuming mental health issues are a weakness or a deficiency. One solution is to have a staff wellbeing committee that meets on a half-termly basis and starts the conversation.
- All schools should have an excellent HR team. Administrative staff who are public-facing, easy to contact, and can interpret complex school policies to individual cases. One of my favourite things (ever) in my life as a teacher, was one headteacher sharing a ‘state of the nation’ report (warts and all) to all staff at the end of term. It left no stone unturned and kept staff in the loop about pressing issues, conclusions and things forthcoming…
- This cannot be left to chance. Teachers who go on to lead others should be provided with external training to equip them with the tools and resources they need to help others. This is one of our greatest weaknesses.
- When I started teaching in 1991, emails were starting to become a thing. However, at no point has this technology been factored into the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document. As communications increase and get faster, all of us are checking our mobile phone devices to delete and reply to emails on the journey to and from work, or on the sofa until 11 or 12 pm in the evening. If you’re expected to keep connected, who pays for your mobile contract? We need to share a clear ‘cut-off’ point for out of work hours.
- One of my favourite expressions from another headteacher was ‘power from the floor‘. We all know that bottom-up instead of top-down approaches are rich in academic research and great for growing great teams and developing strong cultures.
- We’ve all been there! Duplicating content into another format; detailed lesson plans; endless written comments in exercise books or governor meetings that finish at 10 PM at night. One of the most effective strategies, but very difficult to sustain, is one person managing the deadlines of all middle and senior leaders. A central diary, not just the public calendar, where every ‘meeting action’ and corridor conversation captures every deadline to centralise the workload pressures.
- I’ve only been to five (of 300) schools where two people are working as the headteacher. This is a wonderful thing to see. How far away are we from having part-time school leaders working in challenging schools branded ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’? When this is normalised, I will feel much happier that we are making progress. We need to all champion flexible working in all schools, and leaders must be supported to unlock diverse timetable structures…
- All teachers want good behaviour. Sustaining this across any school requires a collective effort by all staff, and families who support the school. Having tried almost every behaviour policy possible, clear centralised processes, efficient management information systems support by good technology, as well as a clear, inclusive and concise policy are essential. One final point, support your teachers who struggle with behaviour, at all costs.
- I’m a huge fan of shadow leadership programmes. They require commitment, clear processes and good lines of communication to ensure that all staff are exposed and have the opportunity to trial a new job. Not only does this encourage staff to ‘want to stay’ but it equips people to then go forward into other organisations and support the whole education system. There is also a great opportunity for supporting diversity, allowing the next generation of school leaders to gain an understanding of decision-making, and determine if the job is for them or not. Even if they don’t stay with you or take up the school’s internal leadership position, at least you will have a colleague who will be able to defend your leadership if they have been privy to the inside process.
- This is an excellent strategy. How can your school support access to mental health and coaching for its school leaders and governors? What stigmas do we still need to eradicate across our leadership structures?
- Measuring staff wellbeing sounds counter-productive. I’m not yet convinced that Ofsted is in a position to do this, even if it became a formal process, but there are genuine things are school can do which are independent, robust and evaluate the quality of appraisal, staff voice and teacher wellbeing. There are a good range of resources that the DfE recommend and I would strongly recommend to school leaders, if you have read this far down the page, to take a closer look and discuss them with your governors and leadership team.
Wellbeing is not the only factor involved in recruitment and retention, but it is recognised that improving wellbeing can help retain and attract your staff.