What keeps me awake at night

Anxiety is contagious: we must stop the spread

Julia Steward

"Teacher well-being influences students' results". The claim catches my eye ("Don't worry, be happy - and get better grades", 22 August). Leaving aside the question of whether better test results mean a better education, it is no surprise that pupils taught by "happy" teachers end up with higher attainment.

In the early days of England's schools inspectorate Ofsted, I saw the same thing replicated among headteachers and staff. In schools where headteachers took control of inspections and kept any stress they felt to themselves, staff were far better able to cope with the pressure. Schools where headteachers' anxiety spilled into the classrooms through increased demands on teachers were less successful. Anxiety in the system will inevitably affect the pupils.

How much more evidence is required before headteachers, governors and the government don't just take note, but take action? Schools are too often a convenient receptacle for all society's ills: government directives designed to fix long-term issues with short-term solutions are instituted without proper consideration or consultation.

Although some headteachers are able to take time to reflect on what is in their school's best interests, many get carried along by the fast-flowing river of change and don't have a moment to consider where it is going.

Like a game of pass the parcel, the government passes its concerns on to schools, headteachers pass their stress on to staff and staff pass their anxieties on to pupils. Children are taught about the characteristics of a healthy lifestyle and even the benefits of mindful meditation, as teachers rush from one event to another with scarcely time to breathe, let alone eat. Headteachers feel guilty about putting their staff under pressure (and with that guilt comes added pressure) and about spending time and money on ensuring their own well-being. We need to break this cycle.

How can we convince headteachers to make a change they are in control of: taking steps to build their own resilience in order to be more available to support others?

Julia Steward is a leadership consultant working in education

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Email jon.severs@tesglobal.com

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Julia Steward

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