A headteachers’ union leader has questioned whether teachers need more support to cope with their experiences of “being on the frontline”, and hearing "disturbing news" from pupils and their families.
Judy Shaw, president of the NAHT, said teachers who had good relationships with pupils were often the first to hear about problems such as domestic violence and drug abuse.
She added that they might need “supervision” of the type received by social workers, paramedics and mental health professionals. This involves professionals regularly talking about the impact that their work has on them, which can support their wellbeing.
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Referring to primary school teachers, in particular, Ms Shaw said: “Primary schools are incredibly approachable places in the heart of their communities, and they [parents] come into school and they tell you things, and the children tell you things.
“If you’re a good teacher, you’ve got a strong professional relationship with pupils and their families, they often want to speak to you first – whether it’s about an older sibling who’s gone off the rails, or drug abuse, or you might be the one who somebody discloses information about domestic violence to.
“Of course, you take it home with you, but where does our remit stop?
“If you're receiving quite disturbing news, is there any training for teachers? Is there a growing need for 'supervision' as in the term that social work uses?"
'Mental health crisis'
Ms Shaw, an experienced primary headteacher, spoke to Tes at the Labour Party Conference at a fringe event looking at “the mental health crisis in schools”.
Often, she said, it was newly qualified teachers who were approached with information, but supervision was already compulsory for early years teachers.
Ms Shaw added: “A teacher of mine once said to me, ‘There’s more to this than just teaching children phonics, isn’t there?”
Tes primary school of the year 2018, Eldon primary, in Preston, is one place where supervision is already being offered to teachers dealing with safeguarding issues.
And the Education Support Partnership, which focuses on teacher wellbeing, says it is currently planning a supervision framework, which will focus on supporting teachers in roles that “carry an unusual emotional load”. This will include those working with children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), designated safeguarding leads and new heads.
The charity's chief executive, Sinéad Mc Brearty, said: “Supervision has been successfully embedded for a long time in other public sector roles that are consistently required to deal with difficult and often distressing situations.
“Working in a classroom and school can expose staff to similar levels of emotional distress to areas such social work, and regularly experiencing these types of events can have severe emotional and psychological consequences if not effectively supported.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “In March, the secretary of state announced the launch of an expert advisory group to look at how teachers and school leaders can be better supported to deal with the pressures of the job, which builds on our teacher recruitment and retention strategy which focuses on the importance of developing supportive cultures.”