Lifting the lid on staff well-being in schools: Andrew Rowlandson
Schools Practice at Odgers Berndtson: Voices in Education series
Andrew Rowlandson, Head of 5th Form at Norwich School
This Winter Term the Schools Practice at Odgers Berndtson launches the first series of articles for its new Voices in Education series. These articles are written by a number of leading voices across the schools sector. They have been written to start conversations about important challenges, opportunities and ideas within the schools sector today. In this eye-opening article, Andrew Rowlandson opens a conversation about staff well-being in schools.
Tom agreed to meet in the Japanese restaurant opposite school. It had been several years since we last worked together in a corporate setting. Our paths now crossed as we both have a keen interest in workplace health and well-being.
Tom, who works for a mental health consultancy, had agreed to meet to discuss our school’s approach to staff well-being. Whilst I was keen to respond to growing mental health concerns observed across the education sector, I was wary of the potential dangers of shining
a light on such a sensitive topic: Would any action only antagonise colleagues? Would we be able to manage expectations? Was it safer to leave this stone unturned? As I tried to mask a sinus explosion caused by a fork full of wasabi, Tom leaned in and spoke clearly and calmly: “Open the bloody box!”.
Although there have recently been encouraging signs of progress, such as the creation by the Department of Education of an Expert Advisory Group in June 2019, focus on teacher well-being remains a few paces behind that of pupils. However, the need in this area is clear, both in terms of mental health issues amongst teachers and the impact poor teacher mental health can have on pupil outcomes. A report carried out by YouGov in 2017 on behalf of the Education Partnership found that 67% of classroom teachers and 76% of senior leaders regularly felt high levels of work-related stress.
For us, the lightbulb moment occurred when we realised our pupil well-being initiatives would have greater impact if colleagues fully bought into the ideas they were promoting. We recognised there were clear synergies between our work with pupils and staff; for example, by adopting a common mental health framework.
We began our staff well-being initiative over 18 months ago by forming a Mental Health and Well-being Working Group with teaching and support staff representatives from across the school. The Head Master and Bursar supported our partnership with mental health charity Mind. Working with Mind gave us credibility and expert guidance as well as impartial feedback via their Workplace Well-being Index. We completed a review of academic literature and visited leading schools to learn from the best in our sector. We gathered feedback via small groups during staff training days and our annual staff survey. We did our best to update staff regularly, keen to keep an open dialogue.
At the end of the 2018/19 academic year, to ensure transparency we published all findings in staff rooms throughout the school. Subsequent feedback from staff has been universally positive.
At the time of writing, looking forwards to the 2019/20 academic year, we intend to focus on the following key areas highlighted by our research:
Despite the time taken to get to this point, deep-rooted change requires interrogation of the issues being addressed. We are keen to avoid simply bolting ‘fragmented initiatives onto existing systems’. We understand we are working alongside professionals with a wealth of teaching experience who actively want to participate in this exciting venture.
Whilst it feels like we are only just beginning, I believe a considered and systematic approach will give us the greatest chance of making a meaningful and lasting difference.
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