• Your school should consider how you can demonstrate to Ofsted inspectors that you take staff wellbeing seriously.
• Think carefully about the systems you have in place to support staff and how you evaluate the effectiveness of these systems.
• Wellbeing at work is about physical and mental health, the relationships we have with others in our place of work, a sense of purpose and value, and the type of environment in which we work.
In the current very difficult situation, thoughts of Ofsted will have been put on the back burner for school leaders, in favour of thinking about how to support their staff and families on a day-to-day basis. However, the subject of staff wellbeing has in some ways actually come to the fore during this crisis, because leaders are having to think about supporting staff at a time of stress. They are also having to consider the potential risks to staff health during this lockdown and in the aftermath.
In a profession where the staff are absolutely central to successful outcomes for children and young people, it is vital that teachers and other members of your school team feel well supported – our staff are our most important resource. Ensuring staff wellbeing is not only a moral imperative for you as an employer, it is also vital in order for you to do the best for your children and families.
Although teaching can be a very difficult job at times, it is noteworthy that the majority of teachers still view their work as a vocation. When I ask during INSET sessions about who would continue to work as a teacher, even if they had won the lottery, a flurry of hands always go up. Teachers mostly love being in the classroom with the children – it is the peripheral aspects of the profession that tend to cause stress and damage wellbeing.
Staff wellbeing and the new Education inspection framework (EIF)
One of the most commonly heard complaints about the Ofsted inspection system is to do with its impact on staff wellbeing. Ofsted has been trying to mitigate some of the impact of the accountability system on teachers’ stress levels, through the introduction of its new framework.
One of the key questions you should consider in preparation for an inspection is how you can demonstrate to inspectors that you take staff wellbeing seriously. Think carefully about the systems you have in place to support staff and how you evaluate the effectiveness of these systems. Inspectors may wish to talk to staff about their levels of job satisfaction, and the steps leaders have taken to ensure that they are safe, happy and healthy.
What does wellbeing mean?
It is tempting to think about ‘wellbeing’ as meaning physical health – literally being ‘well’. However, in the context of a school and its staff, wellbeing covers a range of aspects of a staff member’s role. It is, of course about, physical and mental health, and about the relationships we have with others in our place
It is also about a sense of purpose and value – the feeling that we have some ownership of our own goals and the ability to influence system-wide decisions. Included in the term wellbeing are also aspects of the environment – the overall culture, the kind of facilities and resources we have available to us to do our work, and a sense of security, whether financial, about health and safety, or about freedom from bullying and harassment.
Ofsted research into teacher stress
Ofsted recently published a report into teacher wellbeing. Their report noted that ‘teaching staff and education professionals report the highest rates of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in Britain’. It is clear from the report that, while teachers love being in the classroom and working with the children, they suffer from high workload and a lack of work–life balance. Pupil behaviour was also identified as a factor in stress levels, particularly where teachers feel unsupported by their senior leaders. Unsurprisingly, Ofsted inspections themselves were also identified as a key source of stress.
In terms of government policy, teachers say that they feel ‘done to’ rather than ‘worked with’. Ironically, this is a profession that has just had to go through another full-scale change in the inspection framework. The report notes how ‘frequent changes increase the already high workload; and the perceived lack of say leads to feelings of de-professionalisation’.
Where the SLT contributes well to staff wellbeing, the following factors were identified in Ofsted’s research. These senior leaders:
• support a positive work culture
• are accessible to staff
• listen to staff
• value them as professionals
• recognise their work
• support their autonomy.
The report made a number of sensible recommendations for senior leaders, in terms of supporting staff wellbeing. They should:
• Utilise the DfE advice on workload reduction, particularly around data collection and marking/paperwork – you can find lots of resources online (see ‘Further information’).
• Consider the ways in which teachers and parents are in contact with each other, and the contribution this might make to workload – for instance, whether it is appropriate for parents to have open access to teacher email addresses, and the potential pressure caused by an ‘instant response’ culture.
• Ensure that staff understand the messages around workload and data collection in the new Ofsted framework. Ofsted states that ‘unnecessary data should not be collected for inspection’, although it is not clear how schools are expected to define what is ‘unnecessary’ in this context.
In reality, it is likely that the new focus on curriculum has probably contributed to teacher workload, particularly in small primary schools, where a single teacher might find themselves responsible for a number of subjects. There has been a lot of talk about whether it is appropriate to expect a teacher to answer questions during a ‘deep dive’ for subjects where they do not receive any additional responsibility points.
What can schools do to support wellbeing?
It can be very helpful to offer opportunities to take part in activities with other members of staff, in order to boost relationships. However, be wary about introducing ‘enforced’ wellbeing activities which staff may not feel comfortable about doing. Ensure that there is a comfortable staff room in your setting, where staff can take time out and have breaks as required, and encourage staff actually to take their breaks during the school day.
It can be useful to undertake a survey to get a general feel for how your staff view their wellbeing – this is best done anonymously to ensure total honesty. Support staff in feeling that it is possible to talk about issues by making it clear that you are open to feedback and critique. Help your staff feel appreciated and valued by regularly celebrating their contributions to the school.
Examine the potential role of the mental health lead in your school and think carefully about how you can offer support for staff, especially when they are dealing with potentially traumatic situations, such as safeguarding issues.
Look at your appraisal system and consider how this is used to support and celebrate your staff, as well as giving them targets to help them progress. With the end of the grading of lessons in inspections, observations should no longer be graded using an Ofsted-type scale. It is useful to include a score for wellbeing in your staff appraisal process, so that you can compare how staff feel about their work year on year.
• Advice on workload reduction, particularly around data collection and marking: https://bit.ly/2ysW1HB
• ‘Summary and recommendations: teacher well-being research report’, July 2019 Ofsted: https://bit.ly/3b0mjhD
About the author
Sue Cowley is an author, teacher educator and presenter. Her book ‘Getting the Buggers to Behave’ has been translated into 10 languages. Her latest book is ‘The Ultimate Guide to Mark Making in the Early Years’, published by Bloomsbury. She has written for the TES, Teach Primary and Nursery World. Sue works internationally as a teacher trainer and helps to run her local pre-school.
Find out more at www.suecowley.co.uk.