Battling the stress of leading

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:

Teacher Wellbeing Index has revealed just how stressed many school leaders are. Julian Stanley looks at what must change

The findings of our Teacher Wellbeing Index this year make alarming reading. Especially for leaders. Our figures show that 80 per cent of senior leaders were stressed compared with 64 per cent of teachers. And 45 per cent of the senior leaders said they felt stressed most or all of the time – up from 37 per cent in 2017.

Only five per cent of senior leaders are contracted to work 51 or more hours per week, yet 59 per cent do so. More than a quarter have had to take time off work due to medical symptoms and nearly a third senior leaders said they had experienced mental health issues in the past academic year.

So it’s perhaps small wonder that senior leaders are more likely than those in teaching or other roles to have considered leaving due to health pressures.

There are, however, positives to take from the findings. Most educational professionals told us they are broadly satisfied and happy with their lives. In the primary sector teachers tend to be happier than in secondary.

It seems that teaching isn’t the problem. In most cases, it’s all the surrounding aspects that seem to cause issues. Such as seemingly unnecessary data collection, paperwork and a heavy workload, inspections that don’t seem to focus on the important aspects of education, targets and pressure from parents, and the focus on achievement rather than progress. One respondent said simply: “We should be trusted to teach.”

Three main issues came up multiple times in our research:

  • High workload – by far the one factor all educational professionals dislike.
  • High levels of stress – more than two-thirds describe themselves as stressed.
  • The need for a better work/life balance – more than half of educational professionals (58 per cent) work over their contracted hours and so have difficulty with a good work/life balance.

As such, we are calling for the introduction of the following six measures to boost wellbeing for all educational professionals:

  • Mandatory provision of personal mental health and wellbeing guidance within initial teaching training.
  • Regulators to prioritise staff wellbeing in their assessments and measure this against an evidenced-based framework.
  • Statutory annual staff surveys in all schools and colleges, with senior leaders acting on the issues identified in an open and transparent way.
  • Increased awareness, knowledge and signposting to external support services.
  • Access to an employee assistance programme for all staff in schools and colleges.
  • Access to facilitated peer support programmes for all senior leaders in schools and colleges.

A strong wellbeing policy, properly implemented – not just a piece of paper – is something we want to see in all schools. We all know that we need to recruit more teachers into the profession, while persuading those already there to stay. Wellbeing is key to achieving this.

And that’s why we’re working closely with government and key stakeholders to push for improvements that deliver real change and have a lasting impact on the lives and wellbeing of teachers and therefore their pupils too.

  • Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Education Support Partnership. For help or advice contact the Education Support Partnership’s free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 and for details of other support services, including the Headspace and Yourspace leadership support programmes, visit www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk


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