You are on page 1of 8

The path to better health and wellbeing

in education

Path to better health and wellbeing flyer.indd 1 11/3/09 11:31:11


Introduction
It is widely accepted that health and wellbeing problems are prevalent in the UK education workforce in particular among the
teaching profession. However, there has been considerable debate over the best solutions to these problems.

As a result, Teacher Support Network has undertaken research and stakeholder consultation in order to make informed
recommendations in this debate. Our findings are presented in this document.

We conducted a nationwide wellbeing survey of the workforce between October and November 2008, asking the professionals
themselves for their views. The survey – completed by 777 people via our website and e-newsletter - also developed a
snapshot of the current state of health and wellbeing in the workforce. The answers backed up what Teacher Support Network
sees day after day through its free, confidential support services:

• 87 per cent of teachers had suffered from stress in the last two years. Two-thirds also said that they had experienced
anxiety and 42 per cent had suffered from depression in the same period.
• Over 60 per cent of respondents said that issues in their workplace were responsible for these feelings.
• Problems such as trouble sleeping (82 per cent) and lack of concentration (53 per cent) were widespread, and some
respondents had even considered suicide. Understandably, these symptoms were having a damaging impact on their work
performance (fig 1).

Have the feelings you have experienced resulted in any of the following?

Fig 1

!
The scale and significance of health and wellbeing problems in the teaching profession are clear. Problems are prevalent and
they are having a costly impact on students, colleagues and the individuals concerned. Taking time off work, for
example, disrupts learning, puts colleagues under even greater stress and is extremely difficult for the professional in
question.

We presented these findings to other key education and health and wellbeing specialists for
discussion. In November 2008, we hosted a roundtable meeting with the National Director for
Health and Work, Dame Carol Black, to take into account the expertise of key stakeholders,
including: the DCSF, the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, IOSH, HSE and all of the leading
teacher unions and related bodies.

The meeting followed a visit by Dame Carol Black to Teacher Support Network’s Contact
Centre, which took place shortly after the release of her review of the health of
Britain’s working age population in March 2008.

Details of our findings from the survey and roundtable meeting


are set out in the following pages. These findings have been
carefully considered to produce essential recommendations for
improving the health and wellbeing of the education workforce,
relating to: training, development, policies, procedure
and the overall culture in education.

Path to better health and wellbeing flyer.indd 2 11/3/09 11:31:12


Summary – 2008 wellbeing survey and roundtable meeting
Causes
Out of the survey respondents who stated that their experiences of difficulties, such as stress, were caused by issues in their
workplace, over 78 per cent stated that it was due to excessive workload. 43 per cent stated that it was due to the rapid
pace of change (fig 2).

Can you identify the main issue in your workplace that caused these feelings?

Fig 2

A number of roundtable participants argued that teaching, like other professions, was inevitably stressful. Nevertheless,
! all
agreed that urgent attention needed to be given to the way in which schools and government treat the causes and
occurrences of stress. It was pointed out that some of the best schemes for minimising stress were in the private sector,
where employers are open about the possibility of stress and actively provide and promote support for it.

Of vital importance to the success of such support was the early identification of stress and other common mental health
problems, enabling people to act quickly and prevent the rapid deterioration that can follow.

Case Study
When Kate contacted Teacher Support Network advisors she was suffering from many of the problems highlighted in our
survey results. Having accepted a promotion to Senior Teacher she was finding her workload too much to handle. However, as
Head of English and in the process of being trained for assistant Head she did not want to cause any trouble. As illustrated by
the survey results, Kate may not have felt this way if the managers in her school worked with their staff to reduce workload
or her school leadership team were more approachable.

Kate was regretting having taken the position as she was not aware that she would be given so little extra time to undertake
her additional duties. Kate is not alone with these feelings. Over 78 per cent of respondents to our survey felt that excessive
workload had caused their feelings of stress and anxiety. Over 34 per cent said that their feelings were due to
unreasonable demands from managers.

Having explored the options available to her, Kate decided she wanted to approach the Head about her
workload but was afraid that it would affect her chances of future promotions.

Our coach explored how she could approach the Head with a positive and confident manner and be
proactive by making suggestions as to how to resolve the issue. It was also suggested
that her union may help clarify what workload should be expected or be reasonable
for her position. They also looked at how Kate could be more assertive and what
work could be delegated to others.

Kate’s problems are not unique and many teachers feel stressed and anxious owing
to excessive workload and unreasonable demands from their manager. Being
unable to approach their line managers or colleagues for help can be a cause of
further stress.

Path to better health and wellbeing flyer.indd 3 11/3/09 11:31:13


Impact

Representatives at the roundtable meeting agreed that stress and other common mental health problems can manifest
themselves in a variety of physical and emotional ways; making everyday life even more challenging. 82 per cent of survey
respondents said that they had been having trouble sleeping, 63 per cent had suffered from headaches and 53 per cent had
experienced lack of concentration (fig 3).

Did you experience any of the following symptoms?

Fig 3

Other stated symptoms included nightmares, weight loss, severe anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Inevitably, teachers’ work performance and personal lives are severely affected by these problems. Two-thirds of respondents
said that their work performance, confidence and physical health had deteriorated as a result. Personal relationships had
been affected in over half of the cases and around 30 per cent had taken time off work to cope. Worryingly, 13 per cent said
that they had even resorted to leaving their jobs (fig 1).

Respondents also described other ways in which these problems had affected their lives, such as being forced to take
long-term sick leave, thinking about moving schools, considering a career change and asking for voluntary redundancy.

Much of the roundtable debate focused on how these problems do not just affect the individuals concerned, but other staff,
students, and eventually, society as a whole. The organisational and economic benefits of a healthy workforce were said to be
greatest in education, and health and wellbeing solutions needed to be tailored to the sector. In the words of one attendee,
the profession is “highly-qualified, highly-important….with a great deal to contribute.”

Overall, mental health problems were said to cost the economy £26 billion a year, or £1,000 for every person in employment.

Support
A critical first step in overcoming common mental health problems is recognising and acknowledging that life is becoming
difficult and then finding someone to talk to about it. The majority of survey respondents stated that they spoke to their
family, friends and partners about the problems they were experiencing. Only a small proportion of people spoke to their line
manager, headteacher or employer (fig 5, overleaf).

For those people who did not speak to anyone at work, over 37 per cent attributed this to the fact that it would be seen as a
sign of weakness – a critical barrier to teachers finding adequate support and solutions to their difficulties.

Roundtable representatives agreed that teachers should not have to feel this way. There clearly needs to be a cultural shift
in all schools where teachers feel that they are able to approach both colleagues and line managers for support. Awareness
of support available through schools, local authorities or other providers needed to improve. Representatives said that this
change needs to start at the top with Heads, senior managers, national stakeholders and Government Ministers all leading by
example.

Path to better health and wellbeing flyer.indd 4 11/3/09 11:31:13


If quality support was made readily available and positively promoted in every school, staff would feel better supported and
more able to cope with issues that they are facing.

A very low number of respondents spoke to Occupational Health about how they were feeling. When they did, over 25 per
cent stated that they found them “not at all helpful” (fig 4). Roundtable representatives cited a number of research and
anecdotal reports that showed considerable teacher mistrust towards local authority-provided occupational health services.
Occupational Health was seen by many as a service that is closely linked to disciplinary processes and HR, which also rated
badly, as opposed to a support service to turn to in a time of need. It is therefore important that those health services
provided by schools are shaped to be more accessible and effective, as part of the Government’s Fit for Work service reforms.

On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being not at all helpful and 5 being extremely helpful, how helpful were the people that you
spoke to?
1 2 3 4 5
My partner 5.7% 10% 23.4% 27.7% 33.5%
My family 4.2% 5.7% 31.3% 30.9% 28%
My friends 3% 6.3% 27.4% 35.9% 27.4%
My line manager 24% 21.7% 25.2% 19.4% 10.1%
My headteacher 38.7% 16.5% 20% 15.2% 10.4%
Another colleague 4.7% 9.6% 30.8% 33.9% 20.9%
My employer 66.7% 11.1% 12.7% 3.2% 6.3%
Human resource staff 43.8% 20.5% 20.5% 6.8% 8.2% Fig 4
Occupational Health staff 25.7% 14.9% 23.8% 14.9% 20.8%
My GP or local NHS health services 6.9% 10.1% 24.9% 29% 29.3%
Private medical or health services 23.1% 1.9% 7.7% 26.9% 40.4%
Services provided by my employer 44.4% 0% 22.2% 11.1% 22.2%
Teacher Support Network 7.7% 13.7% 25.6% 25.6% 28.2%
My union 15.3% 18.8% 29% 16.5% 20.5%

Attendees also discussed the role of Governors. NUT Acting General Secretary, Christine Blower, said that governors “should
understand better that it’s not just a question of health and safety”. Attendees believed that governors should take
responsibility to monitor and improve workforce health and wellbeing with senior management.

Who did you speak to about how you were feeling?

Fig 5

Path to better health and wellbeing flyer.indd 5 11/3/09 11:31:14


School policy

In Teacher Support Network’s survey, over half of respondents were also unsure as to whether or not their school had a staff
wellbeing policy, and, for those who were, over a quarter stated that it was never properly implemented.

Participants of the roundtable discussed how wellbeing policies are often not communicated effectively and that teachers
had a right to know what to expect from their employer. They said that policies had to be accompanied with the will amongst
school leaders to effectively deliver on staff wellbeing.

A majority of survey respondents were in favour of regulation to ensure that health and wellbeing standards are met. When
asked how their mental health and that of others in the school would be improved, over 50 per cent of respondents agreed
that it would help if “their school had to meet high standards of health and wellbeing provision for staff, regulated by an
independent body” (fig 6).

In addition to this almost 70 per cent stated that their mental health would be improved if their managers worked with their
staff to reduce workload. This, and other suggestions such as a ‘staff health and wellbeing programme’ and ‘pupil behaviour
policy’ could be monitored by an independent regulator, and best practice could then be fed back into training and
development.

A high proportion of respondents also stated that it would help if their colleagues were more understanding, and their
leadership team were more approachable. Whilst regulation and other procedural change could help to achieve this,
training and development reforms – giving staff a better understanding of how to approach and support colleagues - as well as
an overall cultural change, would be crucial to achieving these aims.

My mental health and that of others in the school would be improved if:

Fig 6

Path to better health and wellbeing flyer.indd 6 11/3/09 11:31:14


Recommendations: The path to better health and wellbeing in
education
Teacher Support Network has begun work with key stakeholders to implement the following recommendations. By bringing
cultural change to education, in part through reasonable reforms to training and development, policies and procedures, we
believe that the health and wellbeing of the workforce can be vitally improved.

Training and Development


• Colleague health and wellbeing must become an integral part of training and development. All education staff must be
trained to look after and work with each other effectively. The TDA and DCSF have made good progress in this area, and
we will work with them wherever possible to continue reforms of all relevant training. Modern practices, such as
emotional reaction and reflection, would empower more staff to address elements of their job that they find challenging,
stressful or frustrating; improving health and wellbeing accordingly.

• Existing good guidance should be integrated into training and made as accessible as possible to all. We warmly
welcome recent contributions by LGE, HSE and DCSF to distribute the ‘Common mental health problems’ guidance to all
schools in England and Wales. We will continue to work with key stakeholders to ensure that good guidance is well known
and consistently followed in the workplace.

• Training and development should be reviewed regularly within each school, ensuring that help is given to alleviate
the key causes of poor health and wellbeing. We will urge employers and national stakeholders to tailor training and
development to individual staff needs.

Policies and Procedures


• The Fit for Work service, recommended in Dame Carol Black’s 2007/8 Review, should be fully implemented as soon
as possible. Occupational Health and other services should be critically assessed and reformed where required to form
part of an effective, integrated support service for the workforce. We intend to work closely with the Government to
tailor these services to education and remove existing barriers to healthy returns to work.

• The equivalent of a health and wellbeing consultancy service, also recommended in the Review, should operate in all
education workplaces; drawing on the expertise of sector specialists such as Teacher Support Network and Worklife
Support. We will support the Government with efforts to record and research causes of poor health and wellbeing and
share findings with union and other stakeholder groups. This information can then be used to create positive incentives
for education workplaces to improve staff health and wellbeing, through additional funding for example.

• An independent body should regulate workplaces to ensure that they meet high standards of health and wellbeing
provision for staff, subject to wider workforce consultation and successful piloting. Regulators could feedback best
practice into training and development. We will develop this further with key stakeholders.

• Governors must regularly monitor and improve staff health and wellbeing policies, which should be mandatory and
well implemented in all workplaces. We will campaign for Governors to be given the right training and responsibilities to
most effectively protect and improve staff health and wellbeing.

Culture
• The ‘sign of weakness’ stigma for health difficulties must be stopped. Cultural change should start at the top.
Everyone from school Heads and senior managers to national stakeholders and Government Ministers can set an
example to others on health and wellbeing. The above recommendations would
take education significantly forward, but a change in public attitudes and behaviour
Training and
would still be a crucial driver in ensuring that we all naturally and openly support
development
each other’s health and wellbeing.

Not being afraid to admit when things become difficult and being able to talk to the
people who have the ability to make a difference is crucial and in a school context, Better health & wellbeing
is dependent on the working environment created by school leaders and other staff.
Culture Policies and
Teacher Support Network endeavours to work with all relevant stakeholders to ensure Procedures
that these recommendations are implemented as soon as possible.

Path to better health and wellbeing flyer.indd 7 11/3/09 11:31:14


Comment from the National Director for Health and Work
“My Review into the health of the working age population highlighted a number of key issues in promoting good health and
wellbeing, and preventing ill-health, in the workplace. Among these were the critical importance of the line manager, and the
urgent need to address the growing problem of common mental health problems such as stress and anxiety. The Government
have now responded very positively to my Review and taken on board all my recommendations, and have also asked me to chair
a steering group of experts drawn from a range of professions and backgrounds to develop a new national strategy on mental
health and employment.

‘This report highlights the worrying levels of avoidable or needlessly prolonged health and wellbeing problems among those who
work in education, particularly the high levels of common mental health problems, and the fact that teachers often feel they
lack adequate support from their line managers to help them cope with the demands of their work. Such problems cause clear
distress to individuals and their families, as well as having a profound impact on school communities and society in general.

‘I have long been a supporter of both the aims and approach of Teacher Support Network. I welcome this report and hope that
the recommendations it makes are implemented in order to improve standards in education, and the lives of both teachers and
their students.”

Professor Dame Carol Black (DBE, FRCP, FMedSci),


National Director for Health and Work

About Teacher Support Network


Teacher Support Network is the independent charity dedicated to improving the wellbeing and effectiveness of training, serving
and retired teachers. Through coaching, counselling, information, money advice and financial support, the charity helps tens of
thousands of teachers tackle personal and work-related issues each year, on the phone and online.

Teacher Support Network uses the knowledge gained from these services to raise awareness of the issues affecting teachers
with the aim of improving education policies and practises which impact teacher wellbeing.

www.teachersupport.info
If you would like further information on the material in this document, please contact:

Kevin Armstrong
Policy and External Relations Officer
kevin.armstrong@teachersupport.info
020 7697 2763

Images courtesy of James Brisco, Judy Baxter and BES Photos

Path to better health and wellbeing flyer.indd 8 11/3/09 11:31:15