‘We must change our definition of teacher wellbeing’

Last year, 3,750 teachers were signed off on long-term sick leave due to stress; as the Health and Safety Executive moved teaching to number four in the list of the UK’s most stressful jobs. This was compounded by the latest Teacher Wellbeing Index findings, which reported rising levels of anxiety, depression and irritability amongst the profession. Julian Stanley, CEO at the charity Education Support Partnership writes in Tes.

As a result, there’s been widespread acknowledgement about the need to make staff wellbeing a priority, which is a crucial first step for the sector. Nevertheless, despite common agreement about its importance, the lack of clarity and consistency around what the term actually means risks limiting the progress that needs to take place.

Successive governments have used the phrase “staff wellbeing” interchangeably with the latest prominent issue within education (such as accountability). Whilst they’re absolutely correct to acknowledge the impact that a specific policy decision or such demands will have on staff wellbeing; to imply this will be the sole determinant of an individual’s wellbeing or a school’s culture doesn’t comprehend the other factors at play.

Encouragingly, there appears to have been a recent shift in the Department for Education’s interpretation of the term. However, as they say, the proof will be in the pudding when they publish a new Recruitment and Retention Strategy in the coming weeks.

As a charity, we’re currently in the process of analysing over 103,000 responses to Positive Workplace Surveys we’ve conducted in schools across England over the past seven years. Through early evaluation of this data, it becomes clear that influences such as leadership, line management, relationships with colleagues, control over workload, student behaviour and respect are consistently identified as the biggest causes of work-related stress.

The new Ofsted Inspection Framework provides a potentially transformational opportunity to reconsider how we measure staff wellbeing in schools; moving towards how staff are listened to, engaged and respected within in an institution rather than the number of initiatives on offer.

Wellbeing is about achieving balance. It’s about an individual’s ability to balance the psychological, social and physical resources they possess against the challenges they come up against. The balance point will be dependent on a range of external factors.  However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that an individual’s emotional intelligence, resilience and psychological state are all things that can be managed and developed. This is why we’re calling for a greater focus on these aspects within initial teacher training and CPD.

Ultimately, there’s no quick fix to staff wellbeing. Achieving positive wellbeing is not black and white; it’s not something that can be accomplished through a single intervention; neither can it be a fixed state. What does need to happen, though, is the formation of a sector-wide strategy (informed by research and evidence) which maps out the minimum changes that need to occur over the coming years at a structural, environmental and individual level.

Read the full article ‘We must change our definition of teacher wellbeing’

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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