Wellbeing in school has been a concern in recent years, but the pandemic has perhaps focussed and driven attention to the wellbeing of the whole school community, particularly in regard to the mental health of the children and the impact of the changed nature of their education through lockdown and the effect upon their social interactions. The pandemic has also led to a focus upon the mental health and wellbeing of staff, who have gone above and beyond their duties in ensuring that education has continued whilst also trying to keep safe.
The Education Staff Wellbeing Charter which can be found here was created by a broad spectrum of the education sector, including the DfE, Ofsted, Education Support Partnership, the leading education unions and a number of schools and colleges from the independent and state sectors, both primary and secondary. It is designed as a tool for schools to create their own wellbeing strategies and aims to encourage debate and accountability in the promotion and protection of wellbeing. From a leadership perspective, this charter is about commitment and principles, and more importantly that both are shared by all stakeholders, which includes the DfE and Ofsted. It is intended as a clear communication to the school staff that their wellbeing and mental health matters.
Whilst there is no expectation to sign up to the charter from Autumn 2021, the DfE recognises, as schools will, that the commitments made within the charter are for the benefit of the school and that schools should sign when they feel the time is right.
The Department has made nine commitments:
- To integrate wellbeing into their workload policy test and to consider the impact of policy changes on staff wellbeing.
- To support the sector in driving down unnecessary workload, promoting the Workload Reduction Toolkit including how data is collected. This builds on the workload reports first published in 2016.
- A commitment to measure changes in staff wellbeing; of anxiety, happiness, life and job satisfaction.
- Ensuring that DfE guidance meets the needs of users, including publishing guidance during working hours, with exceptions for legislative requirements.
- To champion flexible working and diversity.
- To break down stigma around mental health.
- To embed wellbeing into training and professional development.
- To improve access to mental health and wellbeing resources.
- To review progress and impact of the charter in 2023.
Ofsted acknowledges their dual role in protecting and enhancing staff wellbeing, that this commitment needs to be made clear and that they recognise inspection is a source of stress for staff. The inspectorate has committed to:
- Take staff wellbeing into account in reaching a judgment and to monitor this through quality assurance and evaluation.
- To review the framework and if it is adversely impacting workload, especially unnecessary workload.
- To clarify that additional documentation is not expected for inspection, that lessons and staff are not graded, that planning isn’t required in a certain format nor that it needs to be provided and schools aren’t required to prepare for inspection.
The main thrust for the delivery of the commitment will of course come from the school itself, the day to day decisions and long term organisational and strategic decisions ultimately having the greatest impact upon the school community and it being a safe and fruitful place of learning. The school is asked to make eleven commitments to the charter.
To prioritise mental health
Schools should be challenging any stigma around mental health and ensure there is an open culture where people can talk. Talk doesn’t simply mean allowing the outpouring of feelings; it can also be a supportive environment where staff can sound out concerns with trusted colleagues. Knowing staff is important, and recognising when someone needs channeling towards a particular support can be crucial. Schools will need a designated lead for mental health in the future, but there are many staff, and many teaching assistants are particularly adept at this, who recognise when someone is struggling, long before a senior leader does.
To give staff the support they need to support their own and others wellbeing
If wellbeing is considered as a proactive strategy rather than as a reactive response to a situation of staff absence, and training is provided on a regular basis (not simply one training day in September) then staff can have the tools and resources to turn to for support. Mentors and skilled listeners could be crucial here to maintaining the wellbeing and continued presence of staff.
To give managers the tools to support the wellbeing of those they manage
The key tool here for managers will be to know when to step this up. Most of our colleagues will not be trained professionals, but there will be one or more trained Mental Health First Aider able to recognise any potential crisis who has the skills and if not the connections to give necessary support.
To establish a clear communication policy
Communication is often a bugbear in many schools. Email a message and there will be someone who doesn’t read it, place it on the wall and there will be someone who doesn’t visit the staffroom. Develop a multimedia approach to communication, email, notices and word of mouth. More crucially though, keep it consistent and long term. Give plenty of notice of key events and never spring a surprise. Emails should be within set hours and there should be agreed times where responses aren’t required.
To give staff a voice in decision making
A top down model of wellbeing will feel like it is being imposed, but a regular space for people to raise concerns and matters that can be solved is essential. A positive culture of working relationships in school will determine that this creates a purposeful environment. Recognise that where this culture isn’t in place it may become a place to sound off.
To drive down unnecessary workload
Use the reports for 2016 to look at your marking, planning and data collection and reporting. Consider if it is having an impact on the learning of the children and if it is not, think about removing it from your requirements
To champion flexible working and diversity
Many staff now look for a flexible approach and this management consideration might just keep them in the workplace.
To create a good behaviour culture
A consistent behaviour policy, coupled with a culture which promotes good behaviour will help your staff. Even what we consider minor breaches of behaviour, not dealt with consistently, can undermine staff wellbeing.
To support staff in their career progress
Use your appraisal cycle to consider where your staff want to be. Moving on is not a reflection on the school, it is what will allow our younger teachers to develop and become the leaders of the future, hopefully employing the principles you embedded with them
To support a sub-strategy to protect leader wellbeing and mental health
Leaders have suffered in the pandemic. There needs to be a clear channel of support in the school and through governors which recognises that our leaders need this support and that they might too need time and space to let off steam.
For the school to hold itself accountable including measuring staff wellbeing
There will be tools to analyse wellbeing when the charter is fully in place, but our accountability can be measured in terms of staff absences- though we can’t be responsible for someone being off with the ‘flu- but crucially in terms of staff retention and recruitment. This will be a strong indicative measure of wellbeing.
There are five shared principles as an annex to the charter
- Wellbeing is subjective- it is a measure of total health, not just the absence of disease.
- There are multiple benefits of wellbeing, including the long term supply of staff in schools.
- Wellbeing is holistic. Multiple factors impact upon the wellbeing of an individual, many of which are external and beyond the control of the school, but factors such as the quality of in-work relationships, workplace security and a sense of purpose are within the influence of the school.
- Wellbeing is a shared responsibility. The Department, governors and trustees, Senior Leaders all shape the school. So to do the individuals within it and though they should be supported in a good culture of wellbeing, they should also be encouraged and supported in their own self-care and in looking after and looking out for the wellbeing of others.
There is much to consider with the charter. Hopefully schools have already made some headway towards it, even if they don’t commit. The core message though is, don’t use it as a tick-box exercise, but one which is part of your school strategy.