Five tips for improving staff wellbeing in schools

mental health
By Tom Kershaw | 13th July 2022 | 4 min read

With the academic year coming to an end, if your staff are feeling burnout and mental fatigue set in, they’re not alone.

According to a recent study by TES, around 67% of UK teachers are dealing with unmanageable workloads.

This level of work year-in and year-out is not very sustainable and can severely reduce staff wellbeing.

Here are five tips from education specialists on how staff wellbeing can be improved.

1) Understand the cause

While many factors contribute to poor staff wellbeing, from negative workplace relationships to unclear expectations, workload remains the overwhelming cause. 

Increasing demands can negatively impact staff and create unsustainable workloads, as Kelly Boulton, History Teacher and PSHE Curriculum Leader at Malmesbury School, explains: “Teaching’s a job that comes with a huge amount of work outside of contractual hours. We teach because we love it, but teachers need to feel looked after, that our mental health matters and that we are supported to give students the best education possible.

By understanding the root causes of stress through staff consultation or initiatives such as creating mental health steering committees, interventions can be better targeted and wellbeing improved.

2) Identify the signs

There are many signs that indicate someone’s wellbeing is suffering, such as restlessness, detachment, mindlessness, self-doubt and negativity.

According to Lincoln Anglican Academy Trust’s Head of HR, Laura Lowe, recognising the signs and implementing appropriate measures is dependent upon two things: valuing staff and prioritising communication.

Technology can also play a role.

Believe Academy Trust’s CEO, Graham Boyd, uses “data to analyse trends and identify staff who may be struggling so that proactive measures can be put in place” – something he considers “fundamental to effective trust management.”

3) Take meaningful action

Taking meaningful action to improve staff wellbeing is a key objective for Leslie Manser Primary School.

Deputy Headteacher, Nicola Smith, comments: “We try to support staff as much as possible by minimising the tasks they need to complete. Since the Ofsted framework changed, planning is no longer expected from teachers if teaching, lesson outcomes and children’s progress is good. Our marking policy has also been adapted to minimise the amount of time teachers spend marking books.”

While for Graham Boyd, a top-down approach is fundamental, stating: “Ensuring staff wellbeing forms a standing item on the agenda for board meetings and recognising the links between wellbeing and performance (of teachers and children) not only helps remove stigmas surrounding mental health but ensures effective mitigations, like resource sharing across schools, can be put in place to address the root cause.

4) Free-up teachers to teach

Digital transformation plays a big role in enhancing wellbeing.

By implementing capable, cloud-based systems, schools and trusts can reduce staff burdens and ensure pupils receive the best possible learning experience.

A future-fit MIS gives teachers time back and empowers them to teach more effectively by allowing them to do their after-hours admin more quickly.

It also enables teachers to work more flexibly, as it can be accessed anywhere, anytime.

A smarter MIS further supports teachers to feel (and be) more confident and effective in their role by spotting attainment trends more rapidly, enabling them to take prompt action to ensure the best possible outcomes.

5) Together on the journey

In addition to heavy workloads, wellbeing suffers when staff feel unsupported in their roles, lack professional development and feel schools/trusts have no clear vision.  

Super-charging the HR function by introducing software to streamline HR management can help to address these issues.

As can decoupling the pay and appraisal process.

For Laura Lowe, this approach “removes undue anxiety over pay decisions, while providing a structure that promotes open and honest discussions and makes employees’ development the key focus.

Putting it all together

By understanding the cause, identifying the signs, taking meaningful action, harnessing technology and taking staff with you on the journey, improvements can be made that have a positive impact on staff, teaching quality and learning outcomes.

Graham Boyd concludes: “My advice to other trusts is to not view wellbeing as an isolated problem to solve. We must recognise that wellbeing is interwoven into the entire fabric of a trust and intrinsic to its success – across all key performance indicators.

Looking for more support with staff wellbeing? We recently hosted a webinar (promoting and maintaining a healthy education workforce), in which wellbeing specialists unwrapped the wellbeing topic to provide more tangible advice.

Watch the on-demand recording here.