Alarmingly a study way back in April of 2021 shows that “One in 50 teachers have self-harmed amid Covid stress” and also “Shocking data shows 23% of teachers are on medication and 12% have sought counselling to help deal with work stress” (https://www.tes.com/magazine/news/general/one-50-teachers-has-self-harmed-amid-covid-stress), but why have these studies, and others like them, not made it to headline news?
Ofsted have begun to review its impact on teacher wellbeing during their inspections and are now looking to also include the health and wellness of staff as part of their inspection criteria. The government has also now implemented an Education staff wellbeing charter, which is a declaration that schools and colleges are invited to sign up to, as a commitment to protect, promote and enhance the wellbeing of their staff, including temporary and support staff.
What does this really mean though and how does any place of work effectively implement such a commitment and to stop it becoming simply a well intentioned idea or worse still a box ticking exercise? Even with the best intentions of an educational organisation to deliver on the implementation of a healthier working environment, there are some real world obstacles to navigate, even for the most well intentioned and determined of organisations.
The pure intention of why we send our children to school is all about education through learning and experience, but as so many teachers will no doubt share, if the pupils receiving this training do not have the desire to receive it, it will simply fall on deaf ears. There is a saying that education is wasted on the young, but what if they understood why the lessons were being shared and the value they could acquire from them; would they engage with it more readily? Or is it that the pupils have little or no concept of the advantages they can gain, because it is currently outside their frame of experience, so are unintentionally unaware of its benefits. This could be the same for any member of staff within a school or college during the introduction of any new scheme, including that of a health and wellness program designed for their benefit.
These are real world considerations and can be why change does not progress much further than the initial idea. There are three milestones to be implemented to significantly increase the likelihood of a successful outcome. Acknowledgement, Agreement and Action. Acknowledgement is essential because unless you acknowledge at some level that there is something to change, things will seldom progress. Agreement, because unless you agree to do something about what has been acknowledged, things will more often than not stop here. Action, such as implementing a plan within the organisation. The major issue we have seen is that the resources are rarely made available for an educational organisation for the purposes of an effective wellness program. Without the professional knowledge and expertise from a third party, who are experienced and qualified to action such programs, effective change seldom happens.
Unfortunately, what tends to happen in a bid to operate within the restraints of little funding and over-stretched time, is that the task of implementing wellness within the workplace falls to an existing member of staff. They are then burdened with the responsibilities along-side their already busy workload and this is where any successful and meaningful action often comes to a stop.
Furthermore, the disillusionment felt by the staff of any real help being received from such a poorly run wellness program leads to an undermining of staff morale. Because of the disappointment of lack of fulfilment from the original “promises” and the installed scepticism that this will happen again then further undermines any future programs that are later implemented as their confidence in such systems have been eroded.
The problem faced with seeking professional support is that it does come with a financial investment and as is commonly known and understood, funding for schools is limited. The question is then, how can an effective wellness program be affordable by a school? It is the classic case of chicken or the egg; if teachers are not supported in their overall health their subsequent absence from work will be more costly to a school and its performance, which has a direct impact on the following years funding for the school. Increase the funding to allow for a staff wellness program and the staff become more effective in their roles.
If funding were to be available, a school would now have the ability to bring in a health and wellness company who would deliver all aspects of the fundamental physical and mental support through their reservoir of experience. Using a company whose role is to improve the wellness within a workplace means that all who take part will then benefit from a program that is delivered more effectively and efficiently thus leaving the teachers free to teach and in turn the pupils in a better environment to learn.