Understanding Staff Wellbeing in Academies: A Mid-Year Review

Iona Jackson portrait

Written by Iona Jackson

Iona leads on turning Edurio’s national datasets into useful and impactful insights for trust and school leaders. Iona has worked on national reports focused on topics such as equality, diversity and inclusion, staff retention and pupil experience and wellbeing. She works closely with education leaders and industry experts to understand what the current position means for the sector, and where to go from here.

In the education sector, the wellbeing of staff is a critical issue that impacts not only the individuals involved but also the quality of education provided to pupils. Recent data from the Edurio 2023/2024 mid-year report of Staff Wellbeing in English Academies sheds light on the diverse experiences of educators and other school staff, highlighting significant variations in wellbeing across different roles and protected characteristics.

Overall Wellbeing Insights

The report reveals that less than 40% of staff feel very or quite well, with over a quarter reporting poor wellbeing. Additionally, while around a third of staff report sleeping well, almost half feel stressed and overworked. Despite these challenges, the majority of staff often feel excited about their work, showcasing a dedication to their roles despite the pressures they face.

Role-Based Wellbeing Differences

Wellbeing varies significantly by role within the school environment. Teachers, for example, report the lowest levels of wellbeing across almost all measures, including sleep quality and stress levels. Leadership roles, while also experiencing high levels of stress and workload, report better overall wellbeing compared to other roles.

Protected Characteristics and Wellbeing

Examining wellbeing through the lens of protected characteristics reveals notable disparities. Age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability, and parenthood all influence wellbeing in distinct ways.

Age: Younger staff, particularly those aged 25-34, report the lowest levels of wellbeing, highest stress, and poorest sleep quality. In contrast, older staff, particularly those aged 65-74, report better overall wellbeing and less stress.

Gender: Male respondents generally report higher wellbeing compared to female respondents. However, those identifying with another gender identity, although a small group, report significantly worse wellbeing across all measures. 

Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual staff report slightly more positive wellbeing outcomes than their LGB+ counterparts. Stress levels are notably higher among LGB+ staff, reflecting the unique challenges they face in balancing personal and professional identities in often unsupportive environments. As contributors Jo Brassington and Adam Brett from Pride and Progress noted, “The stress that LGBT+ teachers experience speaks to the need for LGBT+ teachers, and teachers from minority backgrounds, to receive mandatory training and support as part of ITE programmes and throughout their careers.”

Ethnicity: The relationship between ethnicity and wellbeing is complex, with no clear trend emerging. However, it is noteworthy that White British staff are the least likely to feel excited by their work. The commentary from Black Men Teach highlights, “While there are variations across ethnic groups, the disparities are not always stark and consistent. This aligns with broader discussions on intersectionality, recognising that individuals may experience unique challenges based on the intersection of various identities, such as race, gender, and socio-economic status.”

Disability: Disabled staff report significantly lower wellbeing across all measures, with issues like poor sleep quality and high stress levels being particularly pronounced. Catrina Lowri from Neuroteachers emphasises that creating a sense of belonging and celebrating disability can have a substantial positive impact on staff wellbeing. “Where schools are trying to improve situations for disabled staff the most successful organisations are those which create a sense of belonging, not only for disabled staff but for those with protected characteristics as a whole.”

Parenthood: Staff who are parents generally report higher overall wellbeing, lower stress, and a greater sense of excitement about their work compared to non-parents. However, they do report slightly lower sleep quality. The reflections from Maternity Teacher Paternity Teacher underscore the importance of understanding the unique experiences of parent-teachers to better support their wellbeing, “More information is needed to understand the experiences of parent-teachers. The age of their children, for example, is likely to play a part in their sense of wellbeing, particularly the impact of their sleep on their stress levels, resilience and ability to cope with their workloads.”

Recommendations for Improving Wellbeing

The report concludes with several recommendations aimed at enhancing staff wellbeing, including taking more intersectional approaches to understand wellbeing disparities more comprehensively, providing cultural competency training, establishing mentorship and support networks for staff from minority backgrounds, advocating for more equitable policies and wellness programs tailored to the unique needs of diverse staff, and fostering partnerships with community organisations to strengthen support for staff.

Hannah Wilson, Director of Diverse Educators, contributes to the conclusion of the report, inviting readers to reflect on their practices:

  • Do we know how many trans and non-binary staff that we have in our organisation? How is their MHWB and what can we do to support this group who are very vulnerable in the current climate?
  • Do we know how many LGBT+  staff that we have in our organisation? Is there a difference in the MHWB of a gay man to a lesbian woman, and how does this differ if they are also a person of colour or a person of faith?  
  • Do we know how many disabled staff/ staff with a disability that we have in our organisation? How are different staff disabilities and access/ inclusion needs supported in an intentional and a proactive way?

By recognising and addressing the diverse needs of staff, schools can create a more inclusive and supportive environment that promotes the wellbeing of all educators, ultimately benefiting the entire educational community.

For more information:

The 2024 Staff Wellbeing in Academies report reveals important contrasts in the wellbeing of different groups of staff working in England’s schools and features expert commentary from Black Men Teach, Diverse Educators, Maternity Teacher Paternity Teacher, Neuroteachers, Pride and Progress and Sufian Sadiq.

Edurio is England’s leading provider of staff, pupil, and parent feedback surveys for schools and multi-academy trusts. So far, our school surveys have supported over 750,000 pupils, parents and school staff. Edurio’s platform and nationwide dataset allow trust and school leaders to benchmark their performance against national averages on topics like staff wellbeing, retention and EDI, parental engagement, pupil wellbeing and others. By measuring the often difficult-to-track elements of education quality, Edurio can help school leaders make informed decisions, develop engaging relationships with staff and communicate their values to their community.

What Could Sustainable Teacher Recruitment Campaigns Look Like?

Emma Sheppard portrait

Written by Emma Sheppard

Emma founded The MTPT Project, the UK's charity for parent teachers, in 2016 when on maternity leave with her first child. She has 12 years experience as an English teacher, Lead Practitioner and ITT Lead, and now runs The MTPT Project full time.

When I trained to teach in 2010, I was drawn into the profession by the motivation to Make a Difference.  I wanted to be a Changemaker; to have Social Impact; to Do Good.  And I was willing to work all hours and make sacrifices to – essentially – satisfy my guilty white saviour complex.

Maybe that’s a little cutting: after all, a sense of moral purpose and the pursuit of meaningful work are values to live and stand by.

But, two years later, after missing holidays with my family, developing chronic migraines and unable to identify any other hobbies beyond the bassoon that I had once enjoyed (but no longer had time to play), I burnt out and quit UK education for a stint in an international school, and the luxury of an expat lifestyle.

Vivid memories of two recruitment videos remain with me from this time.  In the first, a young man rides to school in the dark, and is the first in the building to switch on the lights.  He excels at his job, cares for his students.  At no point do we see him doing anything other than living and breathing teaching.

In the second, a young man wakes up, arrives at school, and we jump between his previous office job (dull) and his current teaching role (fulfilling).  At dinner time, he talks about how great teaching is and then gets into bed, and the cycle repeats itself.  At no point is there anything in his life other than teaching (and the back of his girlfriend’s head).

There is nothing incorrect about either advert: teaching is a brilliant and life-affirming career.  And – let’s admit it – as teachers, we do love to regale our friends and family members with hilarious school anecdotes at every opportunity.  The kids are the best bit.  Indeed, both adverts are powerful appeals to potential recruits who want to do nothing but teach.

But for how long do we want to – or are we capable of – martyring our whole lives to our profession?

Surely, if we want to see improved teacher retention, we need recruitment campaigns that sell teaching as a career choice that allows for a life beyond the classroom?

This is where a recent video from Reach Teacher Training has got things so right.  Like the videos previously mentioned, this advert follows two teachers from the start to the end of their working day, but the marketing team behind this piece have made some deliberate directorial decisions about the culture that new recruits can expect at Reach.

In the first iteration of the video – a 29 second clip – Reach dedicate 6 seconds to images of one of the teachers hugging her own child and waving goodbye at the door before she drives away.  That is 21% of expensive marketing time given over to stating that teaching is a family-friendly career choice – at least at a Reach Academy.

In the second version of the video, Reach set aside a glorious 23 seconds (of 55 seconds in total, so 42% of the entire clip) to the life-friendly nature of their school.  The first teacher joins her running club to run home with her pals in the sunshine.  Meanwhile, we zoom in to the second teacher closing her laptop and checking her watch as she finishes her day.  Her watch says 15:54 and, presumably, she’s on her way to school pick-up.

In both videos, we see the teachers enjoying animated conversations with their students.  We see them delivering excellent lessons.  We see them Making a Difference.

Indeed, the text that accompanies the social media posts sharing these videos reads: Join our community; Change lives; Train to teach.

But unlike those adverts that drew me into a military lifestyle of teaching that – as a 22-year-old with no real prior experience of the workplace – I could not sustain, these adverts state very clearly that the dream is possible.  Teaching is a life-friendly career, state Reach, and one that you can enjoy for years to come around all the other beautiful moments that life will offer you.

Bravo, Reach Teacher Training, and the team behind your recent recruitment video. 

Supporting the Emotional Needs of Young People in Schools

Bianca Chappell portrait

Written by Bianca Chappell

Bianca Chappell is a Mental Health Strategic Lead, Cognitive Behavioural Coach and Mental Health First Aider.

As an educationalist with over 15 years of experience in secondary education, spanning roles such as Head of Year and Head of Alternative Education in both the UK and New York, and as a certified master NLP and Cognitive Behavioural Coach, I am passionate about providing opportunities for young people to thrive and excel in education by meeting their pastoral and emotional needs. 

The Importance of Emotional Support in Schools 

The ongoing challenges with mental health, exacerbated by lockdowns and social isolation, have brought to light the critical importance of providing a platform to support the emotional needs of young people in schools. The pandemic has exposed and intensified mental health issues, with 1 in 6 children now experiencing a mental health problem, up from 1 in 9 in 2017. Furthermore, approximately 1 in 10 students have yet to return to school due to poor mental health and social anxiety since lockdown. 

Emotional support is a crucial part of the wider pastoral offer in education. It goes beyond academics, encompassing the well-being of students, which in turn supports their overall development. By fostering positive well-being and emotional support, schools can significantly improve students’ mental health, self-worth, and confidence. 

The Impact of Emotional Support on Academic and Personal Development 

Providing robust emotional support for young people has a profound impact not only on their mental health but also on their academic performance and behavior. When students feel supported emotionally, they are more likely to attend school regularly, engage in their studies, and achieve higher academic outcomes. In fact, research indicates that students who receive adequate emotional support are more likely to pass their GCSEs and embark on a higher education journey, ultimately leading to a robust career path. 

Supporting emotional well-being also contributes to better behavior in school. Students who feel understood and supported are less likely to act out and more likely to exhibit positive behavior. This creates a conducive learning environment where all students can thrive. 

A Holistic Approach to Education 

My dedication to supporting young people in education has led me to write, implement, and project manage the delivery of a holistic curriculum that addresses the emotional needs of students. This comprehensive approach ensures that students receive the support they need to navigate adolescence with calm, clarity, and confidence. I believe that supporting the emotional well-being of students is as important as safeguarding, and it is our duty of care as educationalists to provide robust platforms of support. 

Creating an emotionally healthy school environment is not just a responsibility but a commitment to the future of our young people. By expanding our pastoral offer and integrating emotional support into the fabric of our educational systems, we can help students flourish both academically and personally. 

Can you make a difference?  

As educators, parents, and community members, it is imperative that we respond to the urgent need to ensure our schools are equipped to support the emotional health of our students. Let’s commit to creating emotionally healthy schools where every young person has the opportunity to thrive. 

Join me in making this vision a reality. Together, we can expand our pastoral offer, support the emotional needs of our students, and build a brighter future for the next generation. 

For more insights and strategies on supporting emotional well-being in schools, feel free to reach out or follow my work. Let’s make a difference in the lives of our young people.

Supporting our neurodivergent girls with their Relationships and Sex Education

Alice Hoyle portrait

Written by Alice Hoyle

Alice Hoyle is a Wellbeing Education Consultant specialising in Relationships Sex and Health (RSHE) Education and Sensory Wellbeing with a special interest in Neurodiversity and girls. She has worked as a teacher, PSHE lead, Youth Worker, LEA Education adviser and now works with local authorities, academy chains, universities and schools. She has authored 3 very different books on mental health, RSHE and sensory wellbeing.

As an education consultant of over 20 years experience in Relationships Sex and Health Education (RSHE), and a neurodivergent (ND) mum of  ND daughters,  I am passionate about supporting this group of girls with their RSHE.  So here are some of my top tips for doing this work:

  • Support them to practise tuning into their guts & listening to their ‘spidey senses’

Teach girls to tune into their own bodies as much as possible, recognising that any issues with interoception/ alexithymia may mean this will need constant revisiting. The emotion sensations feelings wheel may help here. Use the model of ‘comfort, stretch, panic’ from our book Great Relationships and Sex Education to support understanding when to speak out and get help and who their trusted adults are.  

  • Embed the Ethical Relationships Framework across everything

Use this ethical relationships framework to help the girls understand what they should expect from their relationships from Moira Carmody and Jenny Walsh (page 11 and also in Great RSE). 

  • Taking Care of Me (meeting your own needs)
  • Taking Care of You (balanced with meeting the needs of the other person) 
  • Having an Equal Say (making sure there is no coercion, control or power imbalances)
  • Learning as we go (nobody is born perfect at relationships, there will be periods of rupture and repair or sometimes ending)

Constantly revisit and reinforce these simple ‘rules’ for ethical friendships and relationships so they become embedded across their interactions.

  • Explore ND specific nuances to ethical relationships

To build on this ethical relationships work, discuss masking and how we should feel safe enough and able to unmask with people we care about and trust and what that could look like (Taking care of me and you). Explore verbal and non-verbal ways of communicating our needs as well as how we can learn to tune into other peoples verbal and non-verbal cues. Explore the double empathy problem as a challenge for Neurotypical (NT) and Neurodivergent (ND) interactions. (Having an equal say and learning as we go).

  • Unpick social norms and expectations particularly around gender. 

Challenge gender stereotypes and celebrate what it means to be a neurodivergent female. The Autism Friendly Guide to Periods, Different not Less and The Spectrum Girls Survival Guide are fab resources to have in the room for students to flick through if in need of a diversion if the main subject of the lesson becomes overwhelming! Use resources such as this Padlet , the Autistic Girls Network and Girls have autism too.

  • Deconstruct Idioms and use clear language

There are many idioms around relationships and sex that can be confusing for ND young people; ‘Voice breaking’; ‘bun in the oven’;  ‘Netflix and chill’; ‘don’t give sleeping people tea’. You will need to do some research into the current ones for your cohort and help your group deconstruct them so they can ascertain the real meaning. Use correct words and not euphemisms for body parts. It is especially important to explain what a vulva is (a terrifying number of folk think it’s a type of car!).  

  • Use Games and Objects to increase engagement and practise communication skills. 

Use low pressure talking games like Feel good jenga (sentence starters on jenga blocks which works phenomenally well with ND pupils) or Attractive and Repulsive qualities in a magnet game to for discussions in low stakes fun ways. Build in opportunities for Object Based Learning, by getting models you can handle means the girls can really understand things in a more tangible way. 

  • Teach consent in direct ways. 

Avoid using the “tea and consent video” as it is an unhelpful confusing analogy. There are lots of different ways you can educate about consent. Parents and Teachers often don’t like hearing ‘No’ and societal expectations teach us that girls are supposed to be agreeable and passive. Therefore, it can be really helpful to go back to basics with teaching the 3 part No and the 3 part responding to a No. 

You can have a lot of fun practising saying and hearing NO and exploring role plays and social stories to build confidence with asserting boundaries! There is of course an important caveat that if a No is ever overridden and an assault happens it is not the victim’s fault, blame lies with the perpetrator, and there is always a trusted adult (help the girls identify who they are) who can help. 

  • Understanding the senses can support understanding of sensuality and pleasure. 

Research shows that good sex tends to be safer sex. Where appropriate (depending on the age and stage of development of the young woman) you may want to include safe conversations about forms of intimate self touch, (this could be stimming, sensory seeking or masturbation) as well as conversations about sensuality. More generally we need to do much more work on supporting ND girls to understand and advocate for their own sensory needs. Developing their sensory autonomy will go a long way in supporting their understanding of consent and bodily autonomy in relationships.

For more help doing this work then please get in touch via my website www.alicehoyle.com. Good luck!

Why are we still denying part time and flexible working to those in leadership roles?

Maz Foucher portrait

Written by Maz Foucher

Maz is Regional Representative for the MTPT Project in Devon and a former Assistant Headteacher and KS2 lead, based in Devon. Having juggled full time teaching, school leadership and parenting, she has a great understanding of the challenges faced by those with a young family. After moving on from school-based roles, Maz studied for an MA in Education Leadership specifically researching teacher retention, and now works in education publishing.

While researching teacher wellbeing and retention, I have often come across the suggestion that working part time or flexibly aids both the wellbeing and retention of staff. However, I have also found that this is still not an option available to many of those working at a leadership level, so let’s look at the facts.

24% of employees in the UK work part time and these are primarily women (ONS, 2022). This is echoed within the teaching profession, also at 24% (School Workforce Census, 2022). However, while the education profession is predominantly female, fewer women work part time in education (29% – School Workforce Census, 2022) compared to the overall UK labour market (36% – ONS, 2022). Additionally, when compared to different age ranges and genders, it is most likely that those working part time are women between the ages of 30 – 39 (ONS, 2022) This coincides with the age where many women start a family, and this is also the demographic most likely to leave teaching entirely (DfE, 2022). 

If we look more closely at the 24% of teachers working part time, when this is broken down by role we can see that: 

  • 26% of class teachers work part time
  • 11% of deputy heads work part time
  • 6% of headteachers work part time.  

 (School Workforce Census, 2022).

It is clear from these statistics that, of the women in education who are working part time, the vast majority of these are not doing so at a senior leadership level. This could mean that they have decided for themselves that leadership is incompatible with part time working and parenthood. However, these statistics could also indicate that these women are not being encouraged, supported or allowed to work in senior leader roles part time. Indeed, despite ongoing headlines about the benefits of flexible and part time work, there are many schools and trusts who persist with a policy of no flex/part time at leadership level. 

It could be said that it is preferable for leaders to work full time. The need for leaders to be present to deal with staffing, behaviour and safeguarding issues is a very real and relevant argument. From my own experience, I know that when headteachers and senior leaders are not present, it can lead to additional pressures on those within middle leadership roles. In a profession where 78% of school staff are experiencing stress (Teacher Wellbeing Index, 2023), it could be argued that exposing staff to additional pressures that they are not paid/contracted to handle is counterproductive. 

Additionally, employers are within their rights to deny flexi and part-time working requests if they can prove that these will hinder business outcomes. In the case of education, I have heard arguments that part time leadership can impact on the smooth running of the school, its pupil outcomes, Ofsted ratings and pupil numbers, especially if parents consider leadership to be inconsistent and therefore chaotic. 

However, there are also many positives to having leaders work flexibly or part time. And given that women, particularly those in the 30-39 bracket, are most likely to request this sort of contract, the all-too-common policy of no flex/part time options at a leadership level could also be seen to be seriously disadvantaging aspirational women in education, forcing them to choose between their family and their career. Is not uncommon to see female education leaders step back from these roles, leave teaching entirely or indeed find themselves demoted, when family commitments require them to reduce their hours at work. 

The first question this raises is how valued these women feel within the workplace when their experience and expertise is suddenly overlooked once they become a mother and are no longer available for full time hours. I’ve heard this described as ‘Your skills are only valued if you’re there full time.’  I know many who suddenly feel like their level of competence or their commitment to their school is in question, made to feel like a burden on their workplace, that they are workshy or lazy if they can’t work in the same way that they could before motherhood. This additional pressure could be a catalyst for why these women often end up leaving education entirely.  While there are many inspirational female teacher-parents who are forging the way forwards in leadership roles, it is clear from the data that very few mothers are finding that the workload, the pressure, their school’s policies and their own family set-up are allowing them to do this full time.

With all this in mind, if we also consider the persistently huge gender pay in education – the third worst across all sectors at 20.4% (BBC, 2023) – alongside the knowledge that women who are mothers are the demographic who are most likely to ask for part time work, we can begin to see how the policies which do not allow part time and flexi working at a leadership level are in fact indirectly discriminatory towards women. When we know that it is illegal to discriminate against the protected characteristics of sex and maternity/pregnancy (Equality Act, 2010), it begs the question as to how long it will be before cases of this nature end up in court? 

Personally, I have often said that the teaching profession is full of intelligent and creative people who should be open and willing to rethink how we organise the workforce. Retention is always a better and cheaper option in the long run than recruiting and retraining new staff. In a teacher retention crisis, where we desperately need our experienced teachers to remain in the workforce to support and mentor the new teachers we require, we must celebrate and share examples of where flexible or part time working at a leadership level is proving to be a successful strategy for retention. There are many schools and trusts out there who are able to retain aspirational women at all levels of the profession when they become mothers by supporting them to work PT or flexibly. Imagine a world in which a mother returns to the profession with the conviction that they are still a very valued and an integral part of the workforce, even if they can only commit to part time work? Isn’t this better than losing them from the profession entirely? 

Attainment, Wellbeing and Recruitment

Miriam Hussain portrait

Written by Miriam Hussain

Miriam Hussain is a Director and Teacher of English within a Trust in the West Midlands. She has held a range of roles within education such as: Assistant Headteacher and Chair of Governors. She is also a Curriculum Associate and Ambassador for Teach First. Miriam is a Regional Lead for Litdrive, a charity and Subject Association for English teachers. She is also studying a Masters at the University of Oxford. Her twitter is @MiriamHussain_

The recent report from Sutton Trust (linked below) on the 19th of October 2023 stated that the attainment gap between disadvantage pupils and their peers had widened. This was massively concerning not only to me but a number of other school leaders across the country. The gap is now at its highest level since 2011, removing any progress made in the last decade. A gut-wrenching statistic. There are a lot of reasons for this, you only need to log on to Twitter (X) and see the quote tweets and replies to see people responding and citing the following: the government, economic and political inequality, social care and poverty.  When I read the report however the first thing that cropped up into mind was recruitment. Having spent my career in working in schools in severe low socioeconomic deprivation but also disadvantage it made me think about the immense challenges for our young people today. The long list of barriers to social mobility for thousands of students alongside how would the best teachers be attracted to schools in these pressure cooker environments.

The Guardian in 2023 stated that almost a third of teachers who qualified in the last decade have since left the profession. This coupled with the growing attainment gap is a disaster. The article (linked below) went on to state that 13% of teachers in England that qualified in 2019 then resigned within two years resulting in 3000 teachers leaving the profession. They cited being overworked, stressed and not feeling value as the reasons. Ultimately, why work in education if you can get the same amount of money elsewhere or more, for less stress and work. How can we make teaching more attractive so that future talent doesn’t leave or quit. Ultimately, it will be these teachers who close the attainment gap so what do leaders within schools need to do to provide the conditions for teachers to stay;

  1. A wellbeing policy. Kat Howard in her blog (linked below) on Workload Perception states that wellbeing policies should be an explicit obligation to recognise the importance of taking care of staff. It is not a pizza party or copious amounts of high sugar foods on an evening where staff are expected to work late but instead a series of initiatives which support staff and elevate pressures throughout the year such as; giving time back to staff in the form of PPA at home, Golden tickets for staff where they can have a day for themselves via a raffle or specific initiatives through the year eg parents evenings, inviting people into meetings that only need to be there rather than everyone, having an email embargo of when emails can and can’t be sent. These are all important and need to be considered. Alongside, this its also having transparent conversations to support members of staff with flexible working with an ever-changing work force in addition to growing childcare commitments. These different viewpoints of work are critical. What I really enjoyed about Kat’s blog is that first and foremost having a wellbeing policy is ensuring that wellbeing is a reoccurring agenda item rather than a tick box activity. It forces the dialogue and critical conversations to change the face of education. It is providing policy led support for all stakeholders in education. 
  2. Improve retention of staff via CPD. Leaders of schools need to be intentional with the CPD offer within their school or trust. How is the Professional Development meeting staff needs but more importantly developing them? What NPQs are staff being offered alongside leadership pathways within the trust or school? What does the next set of Middle or Senior Leadership look and feel like? Ultimately what is the offer you are giving to have the very best teachers working with your schools and trust to address the attainment gap?
  3. Schools have to offer a safe environment with a clear behaviour policy. If we want high calibre staff to teach in deprived areas leaders need to ensure that their staff are safe, SLT are visible and clear routines are being implemented. It is critical to ensure no learning time is lost as well as providing the right conditions within classrooms to address educational disadvantage. From my own experience an effective behaviour policy is the bedrock of any school. Students within these communities need consistent practices more than anything else. Clear procedures, habits and processes supports staff moral massively. The behaviour policy needs to be established and revisited daily.
  4. A good example of getting it right with a plethora of examples and research is of course Joe Kirby’s blog (linked below); Hornets, Slugs, Bees and Butterflies: not to do lists and the workload relief revolution. Critically it asks and answers how school leaders can support teachers and staff within education. There are many layers within the blog that I could delve into but what stood out to me was the Hornet section – High Effort, Low – impact initiatives within schools. Several Trusts implement these strategies on a daily basis, Pupil Progress meetings, Pointless Paperwork, Seating plans with data. They take a lot of time and within those high-pressure environments very little is done with that information afterwards it’s merely meeting a deadline. In the reality of school life, they are ineffective and unproductive. We then have slugs, copying out learning objectives, flight paths and big ideas with no detail. Instead, school cultures should be focused on the high impact strategies some of them described in the Kirby’s blog as; quizzes, booklets and sharing resources. Just because something has always been done does not mean that is how it always needs to me. With the recruitment crisis we are in we need to be thinking how we make schools flourishing institutions with systems that allow staff to do so. 

I do believe these are within our control as leaders we need to be able to provide the right conditions and systems for our teachers, staff and individuals. Kat ends her blog with stating that in order to ‘improve conditions for all staff if time is taken’. Time being used to listen to what each stakeholder has to say and then making the necessary changes to have a positive and purposeful impact. Conversations should be seen as the framework that drives not only attainment, wellbeing and recruitment forward but all facets of school procedures. As Joe Kirby put it, less time on the Slugs and Hornets and more time on the Butterflies. Let’s stop wasting time in education.


Hornets, Slugs, Bees and Butterflies: not-to-do lists and the workload relief revolution | Joe Kirby (joe-kirby.com) 


Sutton Trust comment on Key Stage 4 performance data – Sutton Trust 

Workload | Perception – Kat Howard (wordpress.com) 

Environment and Identity: A Fragile Balance

Rachida Dahman portrait

Written by Rachida Dahman

Rachida Dahman is an international educator, a language and literature teacher, and an educational innovator. She started her career in Germany as a teacher trainer advocating the importance of relationships above academics. She then moved to Luxembourg where she teaches German language and literature classes to middle and high school students. She is an award-winning poet, co-author of the best-selling book, ATLAS DER ENTSCHEIDER Entscheiden wie die Profis- Dynamik, Komplexität und Stress meistern.

In a complex world with complex problems, young people are struggling to uncover their identities. Social media and social constructs simplify thinking into binary perspectives that are limiting their capacities to grow and develop an understanding of themselves and the world. Unfortunately, some school curricula and environments may be contributing to this growing problem that directly impacts student wellbeing.

So much of students’ worlds seem to fall into a good/bad, right/wrong, preconstructed view of what they should think, believe, feel, and who they should or should not be. In this binary construct, students are not able to explore their own perceptions, opinions, or understandings because they have not had the freedom to develop the ability to observe, ask questions, discuss, and learn about differing perspectives in a constructive way. Schools should strive to create an environment that welcomes and encourages students to share, explore, and grow. In order for them to feel safe to do so, the atmosphere must not be argumentative. Rather, it must be one that approaches differences from a lens of love and learning.

It may seem easier to avoid discussing controversial topics in order to steer away from conflict and difficulty that stir emotions. However, when we participate in this avoidance, we miss out on an opportunity to teach students how to explore their feelings, have rigorous, meaningful conversations, and learn from those with differing viewpoints in a positive way. By modeling an avoidance behavior, we are inadvertently supporting this binary way of thinking that leads to a hindrance in student growth. In order to assist in students’ development, schools can create an environment where people are able to discuss controversial subjects in a respectful way that comes from a place of learning, understanding, and growing rather than judgment.

Schools should be a safe place for contemplation, evaluation, and learning and not one that prescribes what students should think and how they fit into a pre-described way of being. This freedom, or lack thereof, has a direct impact on student wellbeing. Educators should be inviting students each morning to feel strong and capable, supporting them in framing their own personalities and identities. In order to do that, they must feel safe sharing who they are in an environment designed to listen and learn without fear of others jumping into a defensive or attack mode. A safe space environment is cyclical in nature. In order for students to feel heard without judgment they must also learn to listen without judgment. One cannot occur without the other.

Students must learn to find value in the opinions, thoughts, and beliefs of others. Educators can assist in this learning by teaching students that there are 101 perspectives on the same problem. Rather than always presenting a definitive answer, issues can be explored from various angles. In addition, we must teach and model the use of kind words that are full of love rather than aggression, and that strive to unite rather than divide. As you enter your schools every day, ask yourselves these questions:

  1. Am I encouraging differing viewpoints and creating a safe space for them to be shared?
  2. Am I modeling a behavior of openness for judgment-free conversations?
  3. Am I demonstrating kind, accepting language?
  4. How can I help students to avoid defensive or aggressive language and responses?

The formation of identity and wellbeing is fragile. Schools have a responsibility to create environments that are conducive to open discussions, free from aggression, and safe for honest and authentic conversations geared toward learning, understanding, and growth. It is through this climate of successful cooperation and mutual support that we can counteract the negative impacts of binary thinking and help students create healthy identities.


A-Z Mental Health in Education

Nicola Harvey portrait

Written by Nicola Harvey

Nicola Harvey is the founder of Harvey Heals Wellbeing Consultancy. She is a trauma-informed Senior Education & Wellbeing Consultant, Clinical Reflective Practice Supervisor, Trainer & Facilitator, and Published Author. Nicola has worked in a range of settings, supporting educators, young people, parents and professionals, and is passionate about diversity and inclusive practice. To find out more about Nicola and her organisation, go to: www.harveyheals.com.

After a well-deserved summer break, students and educators have returned to the classroom. And as we settle back into school routines, there continues to be a focus on mental health and wellbeing.

The impact of the cost-of-living crisis, social disparities, lockdowns, academic performance, and many other factors, continue to take a strain on the wellbeing of students and staff.

According to the Children’s Society’s Good Childhood Report, the likelihood of young people having a mental health problem has increased by 50%, and happiness continues to decline. Now, five children in a classroom of 30 are likely to have a mental health problem. However, despite the statistics, it is becoming harder to access support for children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.

In addition, Education Support’s 2022 Teacher Wellbeing Index, states 78% of all staff surveyed experienced mental health symptoms due to their work in education. Often related to stress, depression and anxiety, this contributes to the decline in school staff wellbeing.

However, when mental health and wellbeing is at the forefront of a whole school ethos, it can help members of the school community feel valued, psychologically safe, and supported in their surroundings. This is why easily accessible tools and resources promoting positive mental health and wellbeing, need to be available.

To help improve mental health and wellbeing in education, I was invited to produce the content for the A-Z of Mental Health poster on behalf of Optimus Education.

With an inclusive approach, the A to Z of activities outline practical and supportive self-regulation tools for children, young people and adults. I have broken each activity down into small, manageable chunks, tips and advice, to help students and educators feel less overwhelmed, and more equipped to cope with the ups and downs school life. With a mindfulness-based focus, the activities on the poster include:

  • asking for help
  • developing healthy habits
  • improving mood
  • increasing self-esteem.

I am delighted with the response, which has been well received by schools, parents, therapists, and a range of professionals across the UK and abroad. 

The A-Z of Mental Health poster can be used in a variety of ways, including:

  • A calming visual for an anxious student. Ask the student to choose an activity on the poster to help them self-regulate and gradually feel calm.
  • During PSHE, as a whole class starter activity. Each week, progress through one or two activities (letters of the alphabet) for the lesson.
  • In staff meetings or INSETs – choosing an activity from the poster for educators to do as an icebreaker at the beginning of the meeting or to close the session.
  • As a visual guide, prompting students to create their own personalised A-Z posters with helpful activities to support their wellbeing.

Most importantly, as we settle back into school routines after the summer break, the A-Z of Mental Health poster encourages anyone experiencing a range of emotions, to take a break and use the practical mindfulness-based tools to support their wellbeing. 

To download your free copy of the poster, click here.

The impact of COVID pandemic on the mental health of school staff

Amy Sayer portrait

Written by Amy Sayer

Amy Sayer is an associate, consultant, mental health trainer and content writer. She is a Leading Diversity advisor for the Chartered College of Teaching. She is the author of the book ‘Supporting staff mental health in your school’.

I work with many teachers and school leaders today from a range of settings across the country, and I am often reminded of the fact that they have had such little time to talk about and process any tricky feelings they experienced during the pandemic. It’s almost the elephant in the room. 

The emotional impact of the pandemic for teachers was huge. They were having to quickly navigate  setting up online classrooms, complete risk assessments to enter the building if they were classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’, support key-worker children, alongside trying to manage the general fear and uncertainty around a fatal airborne virus. Many were juggling caring for loved ones and making sure they could provide them with enough practical resources and emotional support whilst also carrying the emotional load of reassuring the children they were working with. Not having access to the usual self-care routines and social support due to the lockdown restrictions meant that there was no respite and recovery time in the way that staff would have needed to support their mental health.

Adapting to teaching ‘live’ lessons from their homes, reassuring worried exam classes about their grades, navigating moving between ‘bubbles’ to teach in a number of different classrooms across huge school sites etc. It all cumulatively increased the emotional load that teachers were expected to carry. 

The feelings of powerlessness and fear caused by the pandemic may have ‘triggered’ really painful and tricky feelings linked to previous traumas in teacher’s lives which may not have been processed at the time. Many school staff found themselves feeling scared, unmanageably anxious, and unable to cope with the demands of school life in the way they had been able to prior to the pandemic. They may have felt ashamed of their feelings and alone because things were going back to ‘normal’ and outwardly they had to spend their emotional capacity reassuring all their anxious and worries students and their families. 

Schools were one of the biggest institutions in society to be the victims of the ‘return-to-normal’ narrative, but the day-to-day reality was far removed from this. Protective masks were removed, the existence of the ongoing threat of COVID was normalised, and protective ‘bubbles’ were removed in an attempt to carry on ‘business as usual’. However, for many school staff, feelings were suppressed in order to function and get back to the jobs they loved. That may have been necessary at the time, but it does not work in the long-term. Many school staff today are finding themselves struggling with anxiety and need support.

Schools need to invest time and money into providing training for schools to ensure that all leaders are aware of how they need to talk to staff who are struggling with their mental health. They need to create a culture where asking for support is not a source of shame or embarrassment, but a strength. They need to look after their staff and give them the same time and support they will have given to others. Staff mental health support systems and services must be put in place to help staff who may be struggling to process the events of the pandemic. Those feelings are completely valid, and they may not be quick or easy to process. 

Staff may have different types of support in their lives, but it is important not to assume or take for granted the support they may or may not have. People may feel too ashamed or vulnerable to talk to their partners or family about how they are feeling, and an appropriate and well-considered conversation from a caring colleague may be the first time they have felt able to talk about how things really are for them. A range of both in-school and external support options needs to be part of a staff mental health policy which is discussed openly so it can be accessed when required. Schools and MATs need to carefully consider how they can invest in telephone or in-person counselling services for staff so they will not have to wait for a number of months accessing NHS services. They need to understand the signs and behaviours of staff who may be struggling with their mental health so that they can pro-actively have supportive and caring conversations. The power of a safe space to be heard and validated cannot be underestimated and it is the least school staff deserve considering how much of an emotional load they have had to carry throughout the pandemic. 

Getting to the Heart of Inclusion and Belonging

Jennifer Johnson portrait

Written by Jennifer Johnson

As a parent, a former educator, an entrepreneur and a passionate change-maker, Jennifer is on a mission to empower young people to be their best selves to create a better world. She has an M.A. in Education in Curriculum, Teaching and Organisational Learning.

Common sense tells us that inclusion initiatives cannot thrive in environments where people are disconnected, have little sense of belonging and are struggling with their well-being. Today, principals are tasked with creating healthy and supportive environments where all stakeholders including teachers, students, staff, families can thrive – all at a time when we are still recovering from the erosion of the social fabric in our schools and communities. 

The reality we are all accepting is we are not going back to “normal” anytime soon. Further, the complex issues in our systems cannot be remedied with quick fixes; and, on a school level, principals are not able to tackle such formidable issues using traditional approaches alone. The struggles of the past two years have led to notable increases in everything from mental health issues to bullying and hate crimes – a spectrum of symptoms with seemingly related root causes. These indications are no doubt a result of the unprecedented levels of uncertainty, prolonged interruptions to interpersonal interaction, diminished opportunities for extra-curricular activities, an absence of routine and ritual, and the subsequent loss of a sense of purpose, meaningful connection, and engagement for young people.

However, one of the gifts of the past two years has been the collective interest in taking a closer look at what is at the heart of inclusion and belonging. In order to provide schools with foundational support for critical conversations around inclusion, we need to examine the subtle interplay between well-being and identity, and how they contribute to feeling a sense of inclusion and belonging.  Since launching Captains & Poets  in schools in 2019 we have seen time and again that they are inextricably intertwined. 

Dr. Helen Street, honorary associate professor in the graduate school of education at The University of Western Australia and chair of Positive Schools has introduced the concept of Contextual Wellbeing: “a state of health, a happiness and positive engagement in learning that arises from membership of an equitable, inclusive and cohesive school environment. (2016) In her book Contextual Wellbeing – Creating Positive Schools from the Inside Out, she highlights the relationship between the individual and the environment. “Rather than, ‘How can we improve the wellbeing of young people in our schools?’ perhaps we should be asking, ‘How can we improve equity, creativity and cohesion?’” (2018)

The challenge of creating more inclusive schools is we cannot promote inclusion without first addressing the fundamental human need of connection. This includes connection to self, connection to others, and connection to the world around us. We need to acknowledge that everyone has universal needs of physical, mental, and emotional safety that need to be met before we can connect. We also need to recognize where our systems and behaviours are in direct opposition to the very norms we are trying to reinforce. 

Well-being does not happen in a vacuum. It is largely a social experience as well-being and connection have a reciprocal relationship. When we are positively engaged in an environment, we are more likely to have a healthy sense of well-being. Likewise, when we are feeling supported around our well-being, we are more likely to engage in the world and explore who we are in positive ways. One supports and reinforces the other. 

When we put a well-being lens on current school priorities around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), we can begin to understand the challenges we face in making progress on our objectives. The changes we are trying to make in schools to support a more inclusive environment are directly impacted by the collective state of well-being and vice versa. Both students and educators are struggling with mental health issues in unprecedented ways and most principals will tell you that resilience and well-being are at an all-time low.  We need to provide a safe space to explore these needs first. Our individual needs being met are then, in turn, closely mirrored in our collective sense of well-being. Street goes further to stress the importance of context when looking at well-being. Sometimes well-being is about expressing negative emotions and identifying what is not working for us. More than ever, we need to create conditions for this to happen in schools. 

A similar interplay is seen in the development of a healthy sense of identity. Identity is a result of the complex and ongoing dynamic between what is inside of us yearning to be expressed, what opportunities and/or barriers are present in our environment, how we present ourselves in the world, and how the world responds to us. At any given point in our lives, we are both solo agents and co-creators in every social interaction. We can see this demonstrated in how we each express who we are in different contexts (work, home, the community, etc.) based on the roles we play, our own needs, motivations and aspirations, the expectations of us, the environment and the underlying needs and dynamics of the group. 

It becomes increasingly clear that the development of identity and well-being are not entirely separate constructs.  Case in point, the rise of trauma-informed approaches illuminates the interplay between lived experience, our sense of identity in the world, our general well-being, and our ability to express ourselves fully and healthily in different social contexts. It follows that inclusion initiatives should not be mutually exclusive from those of well-being. Otherwise, we are presenting schools with the insurmountable challenge of tackling complex issues through a compartmentalized lens. What is needed more than ever is an integrated approach; and the fact is we are all wired for it.

According to Dr. Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, the mind is both embodied and relational. It includes what happens in the whole-body experience as well as how we interact with people and more broadly our world. Siegel’s research in interpersonal biology demonstrates that well-being comes from a state of ‘integration’ whereby we create harmony of our parts within us and extend this relationally by respecting this process in others. With this mindful lens, we can inquire into and honour what is going on inside of us while extending the same to others. By achieving harmony within first we are better able to have empathy for others. We can be attuned to differences in perspective and experience and at the same time ‘link’ to them with compassion.  The mind enables us, at once, to hold space for ourselves and others. Well-being can then be described as an integrated self or way of being in the world. This integration of embodied and relational aspects of our experiences then leads to the ability to form deeper relationships that create space for vulnerability, and inspire connection, caring and the desire to help others. Is this not the formula for inclusion?

Looking through this integrated lens, we can begin to understand why taking a purely educational approach to critical DEI conversations is limited. We engage advocacy groups to deliver workshops and keynotes to illuminate the lived experiences of others and inspire us to open our minds to create greater understanding. We resonate with their stories, and we leave inspired only for our institutions to go back to business as usual on Monday. What we aren’t tapping into is the sense of connection that is surfaced in those moments. Without the ability to sustain this connection, our efforts wane and our impact erodes. Until the next year when the cycle repeats.

DEI initiatives aren’t just a top-down initiative and certainly should not be a box-ticking exercise, especially with the limited resources and energy on hand right now. Perhaps what we have been missing all along is that the desire for connection is a free and abundant resource at our disposal. We need to make a shift from informational approaches to inclusion to transformational ones that anchor in our hearts and weave into how we engage each day. Building and then sustaining this bridge between self and others is where we fail. The reality is inclusiveness begins on an individual level. As a result, it is essential we find ways to address and engage those in the room, their own perceived sense of identity and their readiness to connect.  

True connection begins from a place of moment-to-moment awareness where we hone and develop who we are in the world, while simultaneously transforming the relationships around us. We can all reap the benefits of living more authentically and cultivating greater connection by leveraging a deeper, broader sense of self in everything we do. At the heart of inclusion initiatives is fostering connection to self while honouring a sense of connection across our differences. The first step we need to take is toward ourselves. 

The emergence of self-awareness in human development is both a curse and a gift. It yields the curse of self-consciousness, which inhibits us from being who we are in the moment. But it also gives the gift of self-leadership, which empowers us to make choices about who we want to be in the moment and how we want to show up in the world. Self-awareness enables us to live more fully into our potential – and to support others in doing the same. We all remember those first moments in our young life when we suddenly became self-conscious. We received a subtle or not so subtle cue from our environment that there were aspects of ourselves that weren’t valued or didn’t belong. In that moment, we became fragmented. Our well-being AND our identity were directly impacted. Take a minute to reflect on those defining moments for yourself and who you would be if you had instead received the message that all parts of you matter and are worthy of being seen. How did those defining moments impact who you became in that situation and your happiness over the long-term?

We spend our lives on a journey back to wholeness to reclaim ourselves. We yearn for environments that allow us to find comfort in our own skin and encourage us to be our best, fullest selves. In education, we talk about this in terms of enabling students to reach their full potential, but this is often diminished to academic and strengths-based approaches. What gets missed is the whole child – who we are in all our complexity – as well as how our surrounding social contexts impact us on an individual level. Street reminds us in her book that: 

’Flourishing’ is an interplay between our best individual selves and our best environment. This means happiness and success are far more than individual pursuits, or even individual responsibilities. Rather, lasting happiness develops when we form healthy connections in a social context that supports and nurtures us to become the best we can be.

When young people are given opportunities to explore and express who they are and to pursue what is important to them in a safe environment, it results in a healthy sense of identity AND well-being. As educators, we need to be mindful of our responses to students and what messages we are sending about who they are, how much they matter, and what is valued or not valued in them. There are many ways in which we tell students not to bring their full selves. We ask them to get along and when they don’t fit in or retreat from the group we move on with the business of the day. We ask them to conform to rules that have been established presumably to bring cohesion and harmony and when they step outside these lines, we exclude them. Our systems and behaviours are often contradictory to the very inclusive norms we are trying to reinforce. Being in an environment we perceive as safe and supportive of our basic human needs gives us permission to develop an authentic sense of identity. This is key to feeling a sense of connection and belonging.

Inclusion is not an end game and, as a result, the risk of fatigue from existing approaches is high. Instead, it is an ongoing process of intra and inter-personal discovery and dialogue that continues to take us deeper into ourselves, supporting and enabling social change through connection and seeing the we alongside the me. If the human experience is fundamentally about coming back to self again and again, then the journey to self is lifelong. At the core of this journey is self-awareness and the ability to ongoingly connect with the world in new and meaningful ways that have a positive impact on everyone. 

So how do we make an integrated approach more accessible in the day-to-day interactions of schools? Educators need foundational strategies to support their own self-awareness in order to support young people in connecting with their own inner experience of identity and well-being. If self-awareness is the path to inclusion, we need to be more present to our role in critical conversations at hand, how the curriculum is delivered, the way we address incidents in the schoolyard, and how we engage with all school stakeholders. And we need to empower the same embodied and relational process with students. Perhaps the greatest opportunity at hand is to find ways to create transformation in our schools starting with kids themselves.

Captains & Poets was created to give students a sense of agency in this process of positively contributing to the social context around them. The premise of the program is that there is a unique Captain and Poet in each of us who, in partnership, enable us to be our best, most authentic selves – and to embrace others in the same spirit. While a simple concept, these archetypes give us deep and ready access to key aspects of who we are and the state we are in. Introducing the Captain and the Poet also provides a neutral language that moves beyond gender and race to the human experience of struggling and striving, creating and thriving to be who we are meant to be. 

When we expand our ability to view ourselves, we are better able to see the full human expression in others. This gets us closer to an ‘integrated way of being’ in the world. The message we need to send to educators and students alike is they are whole, resourceful beings who have everything they need inside of them to thrive and that they help create inclusive environments by tuning into their own responses and needs with compassion and curiosity. When we are better able to understand ourselves, we are better able to relate deeply with others. 

The phrase we use to help young people embrace and celebrate their uniqueness is, “We are all the same because we are all different.” We all have needs. We all want to be seen, to connect, and to matter. We all have a Captain and Poet inside of us ready to help us be fully expressed in the world. Today, we need Captains and Poets everywhere. Perhaps now is a critical time in education to call upon our collective Poets to hold space for ourselves and others on this journey, and to inspire our collective Captains to create safe spaces that empower us all.