Ask teachers about the state of their wellbeing, and most will speak of excessive workloads, stress, anxiety, an unhealthy work-life balance and even burnout. Ask them about causes of that pressure, and Ofsted will often feature high on their list.
For the first time, however, the regulator’s latest School Inspection Handbook specifically addresses issues relating to teachers’ wellbeing in its ‘Leadership and management’ section.
According to the Handbook, in Outstanding schools, “Leaders ensure that highly effective and meaningful engagement takes place with staff at all levels and that issues are identified. When issues are identified, in particular about workload, they are consistently dealt with appropriately and quickly.”
Staff also “…consistently report high levels of support for wellbeing issues … Leaders engage with their staff and are aware and take account of the main pressures on them. They are realistic and constructive in the way they manage staff, including their workload.”
In Good schools, “Leaders protect staff from bullying and harassment.”
What does this mean in practice? I believe that senior leaders should ask themselves the following series of questions:
How do we ‘engage’ with staff – that is, all staff, not just teachers? Is there a channel for staff to raise concerns? Are there feedback mechanisms in place, such as anonymous surveys or focus groups? Do supportive line management meetings take place, and does the school leader operate a ‘My door is always open’ policy?
How can we take account of the main pressures on staff? How much pressure is caused by the way we lead the school, and what can we do to reduce it?
Are we being ‘realistic and constructive’ in how we manage staff workload? How many hours are staff working per week? Are we doing enough to encourage a healthy work-life balance? How should we implement our duty of care for staff?
How do we ensure that staff are protected from bullying and harassment? What should the incident reporting process look like? What should happen to those identified as being bullies?
Under Ofsted’s revised inspection framework, schools are required to deal with workload ‘consistently,’ but also ‘appropriately and quickly’. The issue to consider is how your staff might evaluate the level of wellbeing support that’s available to them.
What does wellbeing and mental health actually mean in your school? Is there a ‘We’re all in this together’ ethos at play, or are your teachers leaving and citing their mental ill-health as the cause?
If you fail to take sufficient care of your teachers’ mental health and wellbeing, you can’t realistically expect them to teach effectively – or, indeed, be as sensitive to the mental health and wellbeing of the children as they ought to be.
The changes introduced by Ofsted should ultimately be a net positive for teachers’ mental health, but that will only occur if schools commit to building a wider culture of staff wellbeing – one that permeates the whole school and works to foster a mutually supportive, open community at all levels.
Anything less, and it won’t be long before your school Requires Improvement.
Steve Waters is the founder of the Teach Well Alliance and a Founding Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching; the views expressed in this article are his own.