Teacher wellbeing: 11 pledges schools are urged to make

The new Education Staff Wellbeing Charter sets out actions that schools can take to prioritise teacher mental health

Ruth Emery

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Schools and colleges have been invited to sign up to a new charter to support teachers’ mental health.

The Education Staff Wellbeing Charter includes 12 commitments by the Department for Education and Ofsted, including reducing unnecessary workloads, championing flexible working and diversity, and improving access to mental health resources.

It also includes 11 actions that schools, colleges and academy trusts can pledge to take to improve staff wellbeing.

These include extra support for staff whose role involves a "significant emotional component" and "driving down unnecessary workload".

The charter is voluntary and will become available this autumn for those wanting to sign up. There is no deadline to sign up.

Protecting teachers' mental health

It has been created by the Department for Education, Ofsted, the NEU and NASUWT teaching unions, the Association of School and College Leaders, the NAHT school leaders' union, the Association of Colleges, mental health charity Mind and several schools and trusts.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said: “Whilst many of the issues this charter seeks to help address are not new, it is more important than ever that wellbeing and mental health are at the forefront of education policy.

“In launching this charter, the whole sector has come together to make a commitment to protect the wellbeing and mental health of those who work in our schools and colleges.”

The government will conduct user research on the impact of the charter, add questions about it to school surveys and evaluate the progress in 2023.

In the meantime, here are the 11 ways schools and colleges are being encouraged to help to protect and enhance their staff’s wellbeing:

11 school pledges from the Education Staff Wellbeing Charter

1. Prioritise staff mental health

We will tackle mental health stigma within the organisation, promoting an open and understanding culture. We will give the same consideration and support to mental health as physical health, including in the management of staff absence, and fulfil our legal duty to control the risks associated with work-related stress in the education setting. For individuals whose role is known to have a significant emotional component, we will give extra support, such as supervision and counselling.

We’ll also ensure that staff understand the benefits that sensitive pastoral support can have, while also recognising where their limits are as non-specialists. We will therefore ensure there are opportunities to increase joint working in support of pupils, as well as routes to refer for specialist support.

2. Give staff the support they need to take responsibility for their own and other people’s wellbeing

We will empower staff to take ownership of their own wellbeing and look out for the wellbeing of others. This includes ensuring that all staff are familiar with the different dimensions of wellbeing, including mental health, financial wellbeing and physical wellbeing. We will ensure that staff know how to access appropriate guidance, support and tools, and that their use is encouraged throughout the organisation.

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3. Give managers access to the tools and resources they need to support the wellbeing of those they line-manage

We will work to provide managers with tools, resources and training to support their staff. We will not, however, expect managers to provide professional wellbeing support for which they have no professional training, and will ensure there are clear routes in place to escalate for further support.

4. Establish a clear communications policy

We will provide clear guidance to all stakeholders (internal and external) on remote and out-of-school/college hours working, including when it is and isn’t reasonable to expect staff to respond to queries. This should not necessarily include preventing staff from accessing email at “unsociable” hours if it suits them personally.

5. Give staff a voice in decision-making

We will constantly strive to improve the ways in which the voice of staff is included in the decision-making process across the college or school. (This may also include engagement with key stakeholders, such as trade unions.) In particular, we will proactively seek to draw upon the experience of those with experience of mental health issues and/or of discrimination, ensuring they are able to share their experience confidently and safely.

6. Drive down unnecessary workload

We will work proactively to drive down unnecessary workload, making use of available tools (such as the Workload Reduction Toolkit for schools).

7. Champion flexible working and diversity

We will work to create a supportive culture around flexible working. We will agree an approach that not only recognises employees’ legal right to request flexible working but acknowledges that for some staff working flexibly can be a key means of protecting and enhancing their personal wellbeing.

We will also work to promote diversity: eliminating discrimination and advancing equality of opportunity.

8. Create a good behaviour culture

We will work with staff and pupils to maintain and implement a school-wide behaviour policy. All staff and pupils will have a shared understanding of how good behaviour is encouraged and rewarded, and the sanctions that will be imposed if pupils misbehave. We will support teachers to create calm, safe and disciplined environments, which allow teachers to teach and pupils to learn. Our approach will go hand-in-hand with supporting pupil mental health issues.

9. Support staff to progress in their careers

We will ensure that staff are able to pursue professional development without adversely impacting their own or other people’s workload. In schools, we will ensure that any professional development activity is aligned to the Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development.

10. A sub-strategy for protecting leader wellbeing and mental health

We will ensure all those with strategic decision-making responsibility (including, as appropriate, governors and trustees) should collaborate to develop a sub-strategy specifically for protecting leader mental health. This should include access to confidential counselling and/or coaching where needed.

11. Hold ourselves accountable, including by measuring staff wellbeing

Finally, we will measure the wellbeing of staff using recognised tools and metrics and be transparent about results. We will monitor trends over time, and act in response to changes. Further, we will work with staff and relevant stakeholders (this might include parents, trade unions and others) to agree an approach to organisational accountability on our commitments, giving due consideration to workload.

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Ruth Emery

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