Teachers must talk openly about stress
The latest research relating to primary school teaching and stress from the University of Exeter throws further light on a burgeoning issue for the profession (“'Primary teachers have highest psychological distress'”, 19 November).
There is now a growing body of research that indicates a relationship between psychological distress, mental health and teacher attrition. Teaching is an extremely rewarding profession but it is also evident that many teachers are experiencing mental health difficulties. If teachers are leaving the profession as a result of this, we need an open dialogue between all stakeholders in education about why and how this is happening, with a view to changing teachers’ working lives for the better.
The recently reported Teacher Wellbeing Index, published by the Education Support Partnership, identifies workload as a significant factor for teachers wanting to leave the profession. Yet it is somewhat paradoxical to see the increase in teachers experiencing work-related pressures at a time when Ofsted, the Department for Education and the teaching unions are united in calling for a reduction in teachers’ workload.
The message around workload is right, but the reality for many teachers is somewhat disconnected from this. I know from my own research how the structures of education are often perceived to be incongruent with the values and motivations of teachers entering the profession. This can be compounded by teachers’ reluctance to speak about their own mental health and a lack of awareness about the support that may be available. Therefore, we need to work as a profession to reduce workload pressures and enable a mechanism for teachers to speak openly about their mental health without prejudice. Ultimately, teachers with healthy minds will be in a better position to enable positive learning opportunities in the classroom.
At the University of Chichester, our teacher training programmes build resilience and give student teachers the opportunity to tackle challenging issues in a supportive environment. We have weekly meetings between student teachers and their mentors – opportunities for discussions about health and wellbeing – and these have changed expectations relating to stress in and outside the classroom. By expecting students to talk about their mental health and wellbeing, we are sending a message to schools and future teachers that it is important to look after your mental health and talk about any issues before they build up.
Dr Glenn Stone
Head of BA (Hons) Primary Teaching, University of Chichester
The struggle to provide SEND support
How refreshing to read about the open-access assessment service adopted to meet children and young people’s special education needs by the Centre for Attention, Learning and Memory (“Look beyond the label”, 2 November – article free for subscribers).
It matches the sense of the interactive and relative definition of SEND in legislation: “A child or young person has SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special provision to be made for him or her”, as stated in the 2015 Third Code of Practice, and derived from the 1981 Education Act.
The article acknowledges that the “calls for” reference in the definition also include contextual causes such as the incapacity of the education system to enable schools and teachers to respond to the diversity of individual learning needs. This incapacity is further exacerbated by current systemic factors such as financial constraints on access to relevant specialist SEND support; loss of economies of scale through policies which fragment provision; and by narrowing accountability “standards” down to national curriculum coverage. So it will be very interesting to hear what emerges from the project's “machine-learning” analysis.
Associate SEND governor, Longtown Community Primary School, Herefordshire
Steph McGovern's Tyneside roots
In your article on BBC TV presenter Steph McGovern, you stated that she was born in Middlesbrough (“Steph McGovern on a mission to champion vocational education”, 16 November). In fact, she was born in North Tyneside but moved to Middlesbrough as a youngster.
Solving a problem like Year 1 teaching
We work for a multi-academy trust and our decision to change the way we teach in Year 1 – and, by default, the experiences that our children receive, arose as a direct result of our own observations.
During learning walks and school reviews, we often saw children in Year 1 sitting passively at tables being handed out pencils and worksheets. We knew these were the same children who, in Reception, had been inquisitive, highly engaged and happily choosing their own resources, making decisions as to when, how and where they would record their learning.
We recognised that teachers were often uncertain how best to deliver the Year 1 curriculum; they worked really hard to try to get children to write or solve maths problems independently, but the work produced during formal whole-class lessons did not always reflect the quality of which we knew they were capable and was certainly often less spontaneous and imaginative. Many teachers told us they found the first two terms really difficult as children reluctantly adjusted to more formal teaching methods.
We developed some guidelines intended to support teachers to plan appropriate provision to meet the needs of five- to six-year-olds. One of our schools was already leading the way in the transformation of practice in Year 1 under the direction of the head of school, who was also the early years lead. Teachers there said they were much happier working with children’s interests and the standards achieved in writing, in particular, were impressive. Teachers attributed this to targeted teaching of small groups where they could pitch the work appropriately and address next steps immediately.
We strongly feel that the principles underpinning the EYFS curriculum are equally relevant to older children. In order to continue to develop resilience, independence and reflection, the Characteristics of Effective Learning should continue to underpin learning across Year 1.
Head of school
Westlands Primary School, Swale Academies Trust, Kent