Tackling the staff mental health crisis in schools

mental health
By Tom Kershaw | 5th July 2022 | 4 min read

The UK is facing a staff mental health crisis, and schools are no exception.

Staff are crying out for help; Deloitte found that half of the employees they surveyed believe they didn’t have enough support over the pandemic, and most now value wellbeing over career progression.

While the NASUWT teaching union wellbeing survey further pushes this narrative, discovering that almost 80% of school staff report mental health issues at work.

It’s clear that action is needed, and something must change.

What exactly is staff wellbeing?

In essence, staff wellbeing is the overall mental, physical and emotional health of your people.

In schools, staff are often so focused on their students, trying their best to present a calm and put-together front, that their own health and wellbeing get neglected.  

What is the impact of poor staff wellbeing?

Poor wellbeing is incredibly damaging, and for many, it results in burnout and resignation.

In fact, studies from the National Education Union (NEU) found that 44% of teachers plan to leave the profession in the next five years due to workload and stress-related issues.

But if that doesn’t worry you, I urge you to consider the knock-on effect poor staff wellbeing has on students. 

Even when putting on a strong face, when the weight of the world gets too much, the most professional staff will struggle to not let it impact their work and teaching.

Why is staff wellbeing suffering?

Education is filled with incredibly passionate individuals who often give an enormous amount of themselves to what they do.

Staff form an emotional connection which means they can’t ever just leave their job at the end of the working day.

Ask yourself: how often do you find that you’re still working outside your contracted hours or zoning out mid-conversation when at home because you already have the next day on your mind?

With staff already stressed due to the toll of their jobs, process inefficiencies plaguing their day-to-day play a huge role in further deteriorating mental health and wellbeing.

From practical issues such as a photocopier being broken to painstaking admin and repetitive reporting, they all add to the daily stress within a school.

How to promote and maintain a healthy workforce  

Within the busy hustle and bustle of a school environment, it’s difficult to be anything other than reactive to staff wellbeing.

However, there are steps you can take to be more proactive.

Free up staff headspace with student peer-to-peer support

An initiative you could implement to help free up staffs headspace is peer-to-peer support, in which older students support the lower years.

Do note that a delicate approach is required, as tasking students to give sensitive advice can pose a few safeguarding issues.

However, when done correctly, it can act as the first line of defence, helping reduce the number of issues that escalate.

With this initiative, staff subsequently deal less with trivial issues – that if not addressed, could get worse over time – providing more headspace and capacity, which in turn reduces stress.

Evaluate your processes to locate time-savings

With so much to do, how can you simply tell and reinforce staff to prioritise a work-life balance? 

To be blunt, with their current workload, you can't, which is why a process review is required.

Look at processes and requests, then be brutal and cut out areas and tasks that aren't essential.

Perhaps staff are having to duplicate reporting efforts to meet demands from various senior leaders, or teachers are going to meetings that have nothing to do with students. 

By locating areas you can cut out, you inevitably free time up for staff, which, of course, shouldn't be filled with more work.

Implement a cultural change

Creating an open and honest culture plays an enormous role in supporting staff wellbeing.

To start this change, try to promote an open dialogue between staff and leadership.

Often, leadership teams can be somewhat detached from the tasks they request, meaning the time implications are not known.

As a result, your already overworked and stressed staff have more added to their unbearable workload.

But with an open and honest culture, staff can feedback with confidence and challenge requests in a constructive manner.

Invest in your people

Another way to improve staff wellbeing is to ensure staff feel valued.

Investing in a school HR system enables consistent and transparent records of observations and learning walks to be maintained alongside continuous personal development training records, helping build a culture of belonging and development.

This is even more important when it comes to supporting early career teachers (ECTs), given that nearly a third leave the profession within the first five years of their careers.

With the level of oversight provided by a cloud-based HR system, leaders can also make informed decisions on recruitment, which leads to a more balanced, effective and ultimately less stressed workforce.

Looking for information on staff wellbeing?

Our recent webinar delved further into promoting and maintaining a healthy education workforce.

Watch the webinar here.