‘I’ve had to close my classroom door and cry’

Despite supporting children in harrowing circumstances, teachers receive little help – this has to change, urges charity

Emma Seith

Teachers support children through traumatic experiences

A new report from children’s charity Barnardo’s Scotland is calling for teachers to receive dedicated time for support and reflection during the working day. This, the charity says, would not only help staff to cope with “the complexity of their pupils’ lives” but would also have a positive effect on the mental health and wellbeing of pupils by making schools less stressful environments.

In a survey carried out by Barnardo’s Scotland of more than 400 education staff, almost all of them (95 per cent) said they would like dedicated time to be regularly set aside for critical reflection, during which they could discuss and talk through the impact their work was having on them – a process known as supervision.

Background: Wellbeing: why don’t schools offer staff supervision?

Related: Do teachers on the frontline need one-to-one support?

English hub: Traumatised teachers to get more help to ease pressure

News: Why teachers need to ‘emotionally vomit’

Supervision is available to other practitioners in roles involving the care and protection of children and young people, such as social work and clinical practice.

However, while 65 per cent of teachers reported being under high levels of stress, they also frequently said there was no structure in place to discuss their feelings at work, Barnardo’s Scotland found.

Now, the charity is calling for supervision procedures to be introduced immediately for practitioners involved in child protection within education, and for small pilots to be launched to find out “what works and for whom” so that supervision can be made available more widely in schools.

However, the education staff who responded to the survey also highlighted practical issues that would have to be overcome before supervision could be introduced, including finding the time for supervision given workload demands and the already busy school day.

The report says: “The findings show that many of those working in education can at times find they are struggling to deal with the complexity of their pupils’ lives, alongside the requirement to achieve the required academic outcomes and the subsequent workload and associated stress that comes with that.

“We heard that headteachers are dealing with extremely high-level child protection cases, cases that social workers find difficult. Yet they have no formal structure of support to help them process and deal with these cases; no one to support them with the decisions they have to make; decisions which weigh heavy on their minds even when they leave the school gates.”

One respondent said: “I worry about pupils a lot and feel hugely frustrated at not being able to provide the support they need. I sometimes feel very alone in this and it has impacted on my own mental health and wellbeing greatly to the point of being very unsure as to whether I can continue in my job.”

Another respondent commented: “Having worked with children with adverse childhood experiences, the transference is extraordinarily high. The pressure and worry that comes with working with these children does not stay at work, as our work does not stay at work. It comes home with us in marking, planning, report writing and stays with us. There have been times when I’ve had to close my classroom door and cry over break time due to what’s being disclosed to me.”

Martin Crewe, director of Barnardo’s Scotland, said levels of stress in education meant that children were subjected to stressful environments when they came to school. But if teachers were better supported then the mental health and wellbeing of pupils could be “vastly improved”, he added.

“It’s not enough to have staff trained in mental health; happy, healthy, regulated children and young people require happy, healthy, regulated adults around them,” Mr Crewe said.

A total of 402 people responded to the Barnardo’s Scotland survey, with 20 per cent of responses coming from school senior managers and 33 per cent from classroom teachers. Other respondents included additional support needs staff, teaching assistants and educational psychologists.

In England, a new national centre, set up by Leeds Beckett University, aims to create more opportunities for “supervision” of teachers

The National Hub for Supervision in Education will provide in-school training for teachers.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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