The Department for Education has released 12 commitments which fall under a new education staff wellbeing charter. In addition to these commitments the department has also provided a new definition for wellbeing: “a state of complete physical and mental health that is characterised by high-quality social relationships” which was agreed by the Department for Education’s Expert Advisory Group on Education Staff wellbeing.
The commitments seem to demonstrate that the Department has processed the criticisms and feedback from teachers across the country in respect of their experiences over covid. Schools North East has been running regular school staff wellbeing surveys in the Autumn and Spring terms and has updated those results this week with a Summer term follow-up survey. This confirmed that the main cause for staff concern which was having a severe effect on staff wellbeing was excessive workload. The DfE pledge to “support the sector to drive down unnecessary workload” sets out to improve the way in which the Department collects data in order to remove unnecessary burdens. They also wish to further promote the Workload Reduction Toolkit created in collaboration with school leaders and experts in 2019. However, this pledge may be too little too late. North East schools identified the use of Teacher Assessed Grades for years 11 and 13 as a very significant driver of workload stress, something which is unlikely to be addressed by the workload toolkit.
There are more promises in the document which seem to be positive moves forward, such as publishing GOV.UK content aimed at education professionals only during working hours. This is to (hopefully) eliminate the previous Sunday night panic which staff, especially SLT, will be all too familiar with. However, there seems to be a distinct lack of focus on the present. Delegates at Schools North East conferences recently have repeatedly heard school leaders and educationalists stress the vital importance of timely action to reduce the severity of the effects of the pandemic on staff and students alike. Responses on our staff wellbeing survey show that 28% of school leaders think their staff’s wellbeing has decreased in comparison to the spring term and 20% when compared to the autumn term. Although the majority of respondents thought that the mood of their staff had improved or was the same as in the Autumn or Spring, this is still a worryingly high level given that almost a quarter of schools have seen a decrease in teachers’ well-being since returning post-Easter.
The reasons given for the stresses: Teacher Assessed Grades, the expectation for children to catch-up, lockdown easing in the outside world but not in schools, could be significantly alleviated by more rapid and decisive decision making by government.
It is clear that the government themselves need guidance from those who fully understand what is going on on the ground and that teachers are happy to provide context and explanation around what they need. Our survey produced a number of credible ideas and ‘asks’ around what practical measures school leaders think are needed to support well-being. These included more responsive risk assessments; a more measured approach to Ofsted returning; and ensuring that workload is necessary and purposeful without losing sight of the need to provide quality.
Schools North East is putting together its own school-led ‘recovery plan’ to ensure that the region’s schools get the support that they deserve moving forwards from the pandemic. Thank you to those who have filled out our survey to help develop this, but we would still like to hear from those who haven’t yet had the opportunity to answer.