Create a healthy workplace in your school

Written by: Richard Faulkner | Published:
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The Education Support Partnership is getting record levels of calls from school staff seeking support and advice. Richard Faulkner urges primary schools to signpost staff to this often vital support

The Education Support Partnership’s latest report has revealed that our emotional support helpline experienced its highest number of calls on record in the past year, an increase of 28 per cent in annual cases compared to just two years ago.

Our specially trained and accredited counsellors dealt with a record 9,615 cases between April 2018 and the end of March 2019. This March alone, the charity managed 1,156 cases, making it the busiest month our confidential helpline has ever had.

At the same time, our counsellors continue to report that more calls are coming from those already experiencing a crisis and almost half (46 per cent) of the calls dealt with were from primary school staff.

Rising numbers of those seeking support are new to teaching or at an early stage in their careers. Unsurprisingly many cases related to workplace stress. Other typical issues have included conflict at work, bullying and harassment in the workplace.

The figures reflect the findings of our 2018 Teacher Wellbeing Index (October 2018), which estimated that 76 per cent of education staff experienced behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to work compared to 60 per cent of UK employees overall.

The report clearly raises deep concerns. We are seeing a steep rise in teachers struggling to maintain good wellbeing and mental health in extremely challenging times in the profession, often a response to whole-school pressure around funding and the knock-on effect of heavy workloads.

Many tell us that they do not feel trusted and have little autonomy, which has an impact on resilience, self-esteem and ultimately mental health. For many, personal issues compound workplace pressures.

It is particularly striking that teachers are not asking for help at the first, or even second, sign of difficulty. The vast majority of callers only get in touch when they are already in a crisis.

Working with school leaders, we want to change this and urge anyone who is feeling overwhelmed, fearful, worried, anxious or disinterested in life to call us no matter how insignificant they may think their problems may be.

For schools, simply taking the proactive action of signposting staff to support and employee assistance programmes could make all the difference as a first and immediate step. At present, fewer than half (43 per cent) of classroom teachers are aware that they can access free and confidential telephone counselling. New starter inductions, whole-school wellbeing policies, staff and one-to-one meetings all present easy opportunities to ensure staff teams are aware of the support that is available.

What is extremely encouraging is that our helpline is clearly making a significant difference, helping to keep many in the profession. Indeed, 87 per cent of users told us that they felt better equipped to deal with their problems after accessing our support.

One experienced primary school teacher told us: “A while ago I was feeling overwhelmed with work and not having enough time to get it all done. I used the helpline as I felt it was all getting on top of me. Just to share with someone who was not involved, to rationalise my thoughts, was really, really helpful.

“I’ve had counselling before as I used to get very stressed and bring it all home. It’s so hard not to in our profession. Now I am able to talk and address the problem more quickly because of the techniques I’ve now got and then move on.”

Another teacher said: “I didn’t used to sleep very well but the counsellor suggested ways to get into a routine which has really helped. Now I sleep much better. I felt emotionally burdened and they just got to the nub of it. I’m gradually building my confidence again.”

We want to see a proactive approach to nurturing teacher’s resilience, starting with initial teacher training and during early careers and managed throughout professional life.

Nobody wants desensitised, emotionally exhausted adults in the classroom. We want to see more schools and institutions offer staff access to specialist face-to-face counselling, through measures such as employee assistance programmes. The Education Support Partnership is also calling on the Department for

Education to make wellbeing and mental health a central component of its recently announced early career support plans (DfE, 2019).
It is time to take serious, strategic action to improve the health of schools as workplaces.

  • Richard Faulkner is head of policy, research and communications at the Education Support Partnership.

Further information

  • Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018, Education Support Partnership, October 2018: http://bit.ly/2HZ8p2L
  • 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
  • Supporting early career teachers (ECF), DfE, January 2019: http://bit.ly/2UpPaUL


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