Home / Discovery / Transformative Leadership: Article 1: Well-being: A Nice to Have or Essential to your School’s Success?

Transformative Leadership:  Creating Mentally Healthy Schools

A series examining the current epidemic of mental health issues in our schools and advocating transformative leadership as the solution

Well-being: a nice to have or essential to your school’s success?

With 3,750 teachers taking long term sick leave in 20171, rising reporting of stress and mental health related sickness amongst school staff and at least  1 in 10 young people having a diagnosed mental health issue:2 what can be done to address the almost epidemic levels of stress and mental health issues in our schools?

The 2018 Teacher Wellbeing Index3 compiled by Education Support Partnership in conjunction with YouGov found that 76% of education professionals have experienced symptoms of work related stress and mental ill-health; the highest of any profession and 16% higher than the UK average.  Considering that teachers tend to work on average eight weeks less per year than the average UK worker; these figures are, perhaps, even more concerning.  Even more worrying, the Wellbeing Index found that 57% of teachers had considered leaving the sector.

A recent education review study4 revealed that performance targets, increased workload and constant change in focus and policy are major contributory stress factors.  The study also found that the focus on targets and results is having an adverse effect on teacher-student relationships, hampering learning and opportunities to meet the psychological needs of children.

Conversely; children suffering mental health and wellbeing issues are more likely to have a disrupted education and struggle to reach the academic achievement levels required by school performance targets; a real Catch 22 that can surely only add to the pressure being felt by teaching staff.

The Department for Education

A Department for Education Survey5 found that as well as the 10% of children aged 5-16 with a diagnosed mental health condition; approximately a further 15% had issues likely to lead to the development of poor mental health in the future.  This would suggest a failing in the provision of mental health and well-being support for children, however, the report findings indicated a much more positive picture:

Almost all schools (92%) reported having an ethos or environment that promoted mutual care and concern amongst staff and pupils and the majority (64%) felt the promotion of positive mental health and well-being was integrated into the school day.  The survey also reported that most schools claimed to have provision of a broad range of specific and wider mental health teaching and support activities.

Mental Health Rates Still Rising

In reading the report you could be forgiven for thinking that the mental health support landscape for children and young people is a positive one, but why then are child mental ill-health rates still rising and why are so many teachers struggling with workplace mental health related issues and sickness?

It is interesting to note that the vast majority of those completing the survey were either headteachers (49%) or members of the schools’ senior leadership teams (32%) with only 3% of responders being regular teaching staff.  Is there is a fundamental lack of senior leadership understanding what’s really going on in their schools or do those leaders simply need to take a more transformative approach to reversing the current trends and create mentally healthy schools where teachers and pupils can thrive?

1 Liberal Democrat Freedom of Information Request

2 Centre for Mental Health

3 Education Support Partnership

4 Study conducted by The Bamford Centre for Mental Health & Wellbeing at Ulster University

5 Department for Education


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