Chaplaincy revitalised in era of workload woe

3rd April 2015 at 01:00
Numbers double - and they are supporting staff as well as students

The number of school and college chaplains has more than doubled in the past decade, with support for stressed teachers becoming an important part of their role.

Church of England figures show that the number of school chaplains has grown from 200 to more than 400 in the past 10 years.

The role of chaplain "varies hugely, from comforting students in the aftermath of a tragedy or helping celebrate their successes to quietly listening to a tutor who is facing redundancy or exploring what it means to believe in God at all", according to the Reverend Garry Neave, the CofE's lead on chaplaincy.

"Where their independence and integrity have earned it, the chaplain may be the one person the principal can unburden themself to, or the one person who is able to say that a proposed course of action is not the right one in light of the school or college's values," writes Rev Neave in an article for the TES website.

The Reverend John Seymour, chaplain of Twyford CofE High School in Acton, West London, told TES that he made a point of speaking to teachers who seemed troubled.

"You can see on their faces when they're stressed, whether it's about work or their personal life," he said. "I go into their classroom at a quiet time and say, `How are you at the moment?' I think the fact they can articulate what's going on helps them to make decisions about what they want to do, rather than feeling trapped by it."

As revealed in TES earlier this year, more teachers are quitting the profession than at any point in the past decade (News, 30 January). The Workload Challenge, launched by the government last year, acknowledged the severe strain put on teachers because of excessive overtime.

The CofE finding comes as teachers again raise concerns about workload at teaching union conferences. Speaking at the annual ATL conference in Liverpool this week, Louise Atkinson, a newly qualified teacher in Cumbria, said the pressures were already taking their toll.

"I love my job and I was prepared for the workload," she added. "But I worry that I will end up as one of those teachers crying about the workload."

A motion due to be debated at the NASUWT's conference this weekend says "excessive workload" is "adversely affecting the health and well-being of teachers" and "contributing to the growing crisis in teacher recruitment and retention".

At Twyford High, Rev Seymour organises meditation sessions for staff and students. "It creates pockets of time to be reflective, to be mindful," he said.

By recruiting a chaplain, a school "is saying there's something else going on which is about the human identity and a sense of purpose, rather than an exam factory that is simply getting students through academic hurdles," Rev Seymour added.

A CofE report published last year finds that 92 per cent of chaplains provide pastoral care for students, 91 per cent do so for staff and 76 per cent do so for the headteacher.

Joy Hawes, chaplain of the Blue School in Somerset, said that because chaplains were "a bit outside the normal hierarchy", they were well-placed to support teachers.

"Because I'm not a teacher myself I have a different perspective and I look at people in terms of the whole of their life," she added. "Teachers do feel able to talk to me about the tricky issues of their working life, but it's also about what's happening outside work."

Stress busters

Julian Stanley, chief executive of the Teacher Support Network, said there had been a 6 per cent rise in the number of education professionals seeking support from counsellors via the charity's helpline last year. The main issues raised included anxiety, stress and the "ability to say no at work".

"Evidence from our recent health survey emphatically shows that pressures at work, such as workload, demands from managers and student behaviour, are resulting in significantly high reports of stress, anxiety and depression," Mr Stanley said.

"It is important that teachers find someone to talk to about these kinds of issues, whether that's with a chaplain at school, via our helpline or with friends and family, so they do not suffer alone."

Richy Thompson, campaigns manager at the British Humanist Association, said the growth of chaplaincy raised "questions as to whether funds are being taken away from teaching, or from more inclusive forms of pastoral support such as counsellors".

"It is vital that any support provided is inclusive of all pupils and staff, and where an individual is employed explicitly on account of their religious opinions this instantly puts a barrier up," he added. "It also raises wider questions about the appropriateness of state funds being used to prop up religious groups."

Gogglebox's Rev Kate: `People talk to me about work pressures'

The Reverend Kate Bottley may be best known for sitting in front of the television on Channel 4's Gogglebox, but she also works three days a week as a chaplain for North Nottinghamshire College.

The former secondary RE teacher says that while chaplains have long been perceived as the "poor cousin of ordained ministry", she enjoys working on the front line - especially with young people who "might never darken the door of a church".

Her role is paid for by the Diocese of Nottingham and, given the financial pressures in the further education sector, "I suspect it wouldn't be funded if the diocese didn't pay".

Rev Bottley offers support on a wide range of issues, from stress and bereavement to "sex, drugs and rock and roll". "Everything that's part of the life of the college," she adds.

"Sometimes people are scared that chaplaincy is going to be about indoctrination and preaching to convert - that's not why we're here," says Rev Bottley. And a growing part of her role is supporting staff.

"I have had people come and talk to me about the pressures at work; the challenges and frustrations of what it means to be in education at the moment."

But the role does bring some light relief. "I spent one day dressed up as a cigarette, hanging out in the smoking shelters for No Smoking Day," she says. "It's like being a vicar without portfolio - I get to make up my own job. I love what I do."

Stephen Exley

`Not just a dog collar'

The Reverend Neil Dunlop, chaplain of North Warwickshire and Hinckley College, has developed his own approach to building relationships with staff.

"Every Friday I go around every member of staff and offer them a sweet," he says. "It's a really good opener and it means I'm connected with all staff.

"It's about raising the profile of the chaplaincy so that if there's an issue they want to talk about, they know I'm not just a face with a dog collar but someone they can talk to. I get called the candy man, but I don't mind.

"When I started handing out the sweets, two years ago, it would take about half an hour to get around the staff," says Rev Dunlop. "Now it takes three to four hours, because people are starting to feel they can open up to me about issues."


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