The pandemic has posed a significant challenge for teachers and educational staff. With months of uncertainty as to whether schools would reopen, combined with a need to quickly adapt to remote methods of teaching, the education sector has been navigating a minefield. It is no surprise that the mental health of the teaching workforce is suffering.

They support individuals and help schools, colleges, and universities to improve the mental health and wellbeing of their staff. They carry out research and advocate for changes in Government policy that benefit the education workforce.

The organisation provides wellbeing services for schools, multi-academy trusts and local authorities. They offer Employee Assistance Programmes, facilitating peer support for school leaders to share experiences and provide individual supervision and mentoring.



“We believe that better mental health leads to better education”

The Teacher Wellbeing Index

Since 2017, Education Support has produced an annual Teacher Wellbeing Index that provides a snapshot of the mental health and wellbeing of teachers and education staff working across the UK.

The 2021 report was significant as it gave an insight into the working lives of teachers and education staff under the shadow of Covid-19. The survey of over 3,000 education staff found [2]:

  • 72% of education staff describe themselves as stressed at work (rising to 84% of senior leaders)
  • 77% say they have experienced symptoms of poor mental health due to their work
  • 46% of education staff go into work when unwell (rising to 54% for senior leaders)
  • 42% think their organisation’s culture has a negative impact on their wellbeing
  • 54% have considered leaving the sector in the past two years due to pressures on mental health

Additionally, the Teacher Wellbeing Index has found that over the past five years:

  • Levels of stress and anxiety remain unsustainably high
  • Excessive workload and lack of work-life balance remain key drivers for poor mental health
  • Covid-19 has had a significant impact on wellbeing
  • Staff are concerned they will be perceived negatively if they seek support for mental health issues

Sinéad McBrearty, CEO of Education Support discussed the results of the survey:

“These findings represent the experience of school and college support staff, teachers, lecturers and leaders. This is their story. If we fail to act on these findings, we are complicit in the damage to the lives and opportunities of those responsible for teaching, guiding and inspiring our nations next generation”

Education Support has highlighted that insufficient funding is one of the key drivers of excessive workload. The Government have offered an extra £4.7 billion core funding and £1.8 billion for education recovery.

However, many schools and colleges still lack sufficient resources to meet the needs of their communities. Smaller schools and those in areas of increased need are particularly affected by this.

Education Support advocates reimagining the funding model to provide schools and colleges with the capacity to recover, deliver and improve provisions.

Systemic Perspective

The systemic perspective of teacher wellbeing recognises the intertwined relationship between the mental state of the individual, the conditions of the workplace and education policy. If any of these elements are inadequate, then the well-being of the educator is compromised.

Individual teachers and education staff have things going on in their personal lives that may affect how they can perform their job on a given day. It should be recognised that all individuals have their own set of circumstances that they must contend with outside of work.

The conditions of the workplace must be considered when understanding what affects teacher wellbeing. To some individuals, a workplace might allow them to thrive, but this same workplace might not suit another individual. It is important that a workplace makes all teachers and educational staff feel supported, and like they fit in.

This is enveloped by education policy. It should be noted that the political and policy climate that teachers and educational staff operate in is highly relevant to wellbeing.

Education Support believes that reducing stressors in the education workforce should be at the heart of education policy.

Recommendations

As a result of the 2021 Teacher Wellbeing Index, Education Support compiled lists of recommendations for schools and colleges, and for government and policy makers.

For schools and colleges:

  • Prioritise a culture of wellbeing and reduce stigma. Everybody should feel they are in a space where they can be themselves, regardless of how they identify or present.
  • Understand that everybody has a limit and piling on pressure will only push staff to breaking point.
  • Find ways of increasing protective resilience of the workforce. Ongoing resilience is key to avoiding crash and burn situations.
  • Look after your leadership as they are the drivers of systems of culture and wellbeing in the workplace.
  • Facilitate collegiality so that staff feel companionship in a friendly environment.
  • Provide opportunities for professional development so that staff feel motivated and engaged.

For government and policy makers:

  • Educator mental health must be at the heart of education recovery and all education policy.
  • Inspection bodies must adapt to the current challenging context to alleviate the pressure on and anxiety of the workforce.
  • Educators should be adequately thanked and acknowledged for their hard work and risk taking during the pandemic.
  • Existing frameworks present opportunities for improvements and these should be thoroughly explored.
  • Recruitment and retention of senior leaders must be prioritised.

Education Support acknowledges that the recommendations for schools and colleges are dependent on the availability of sufficient resources.

Further Advice

Education Support provides free support and advice for individuals through a telephone helpline where they can speak to trained councillors.

They also offer financial grants for teachers, teaching assistants, supply, and support staff. This is for those who are experiencing financial problems caused by unemployment, ill-health, sudden life changes, bereavement, or personal injury.

Part of the ethos of Education Support is to encourage teachers to always prioritise self-care. They know that it is impossible for a teacher to perform as an educator if they do not feel fulfilled or if they are lacking in the things that make them happy and healthy.

There are some tell-tale signs of declining mental wellbeing that teachers and educational staff should look out for in themselves and in their colleagues. These include:

  • Sense of dread
  • Feeling on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Tearfulness
  • Flatness
  • Feeling overwhelmed

If these characteristics are recognised in colleagues, then individuals should be urged to seek further support.

[1] Education Support

[2] Teacher Wellbeing Index 2021

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The pandemic has had a significant impact on the mental wellbeing of the education workforce, with 72% of education staff reporting consistent stress at work. Sinéad McBrearty from Education Support offered their recommendations for government, policy makers and schools for supporting the mental health of the workforce.

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