It’s now over 2 years since we entered our first pandemic lockdown and whilst Covid appears less virulent, we are still seeing a distressingly high number of hospitalisations, and sadly deaths.
We are also starting to see the impact of the pandemic with a number of reports indicating a rise in the prevalence of mental ill health amongst young people.
According to NHS figures, 1 in 6 children aged between 5 and 16 in 2020 had a probable mental health disorder, up from 1 in 9 in 2017. There is no reason to suggest that those figures haven’t worsened since.
A recent report from Steer Education suggests that the pandemic has impacted girls more adversely than boys, with more than 80% of girls going to great lengths to hide signs of mental distress from school staff up from 60% pre-pandemic.
However, the pandemic has also had an impact on our views about mental health and wellbeing with many now prioritising their wellbeing over careers and work more generally. We are more often reminded that we work to live, not the other way around. We need to keep hold of these views, as so much of our pre pandemic lives was gobbled up by work often to the detriment of our own mental health and wellbeing.
I am increasingly having conversations with schools and school leaders about making substantial cultural change to the way that schools work, to ensure all staff benefit from improved mental health and wellbeing. Those schools who “get it” can see that not only does such an approach benefit mental health but that more mentally healthy staff are more effective, and that not only means more fulfilled and flourishing, but also improved standards.
I’m working closely with schools across the country to embed a mentally healthy school culture, supported by the SAS wellbeing support team and services, to show that you don’t need to choose between Ofsted and wellbeing. You can do both and one supports the other.
In my experience if you get the wellbeing right for staff and pupils, everyone performs better and standards rise. It really is a win win.
Getting to this point needs the whole school community to act in the same direction, which means beginning with a shared understanding of wellbeing. If we don’t even agree on what wellbeing is, how can we work to improve it?
Governors need to play a key role in building a whole school wellbeing approach. They need to give school leaders the permission to develop a vision based on wellbeing supporting staff and learners and consequently improving outcomes. Such an approach will have far more impact than drilling, boosting and doing more. Governors need to be given an understanding that wellbeing is about professional autonomy, engagement and purpose for staff as much as it is about doing nice things. SAS clients can access the Wellbeing Governor E-module from Carnegie School for Excellence in Mental Health, which is the perfect way to support and engage governors with whole school wellbeing.
Key questions for governors and senior leaders are:
How do we get our staff (all of our staff not just teachers) to a place where they can be the very best version of themselves?
Is that what we have now? If not, why not and how can we improve it?
What is our vision for a post pandemic school, what have we learned and how is this different from January 2020?
My wish for senior leaders is twofold.
- That they really take a close look at their own mental health and wellbeing as not only does it have an effect on them, it affects the rest of the school. The head sets the tone for schools and has a critical role modelling impact on staff. The chances are that if you prioritise wellbeing then the staff will.
Leaders of SAS schools can utilise our School Leaders Thriving Programme which is designed to enable leaders to reflect on their own wellbeing and how this impacts their leadership.
- Secondly, is wellbeing sufficiently embedded that all who work and learn in the school can be the best version of themselves? How do you as a leader make that happen, because if you do, standards rise. That’s just the conversation I’m having with many school leaders who are SAS or NAHT Wellness and Protect schools.
In terms of staff in school, and I’m really including everyone who is not a senior leader, how do you prioritise your wellbeing so that you are the best version of yourself at school and in your personal life? Whilst the head has a duty of care, you also have an individual responsibility to take decisions about your own wellbeing that supports you.
Wellbeing isn’t just for those who work with the children every day either. I’ve got tried and tested ideas about how to improve the wellbeing of all staff.
We have to move forward in a different way and see wellbeing as essential to being able to do our jobs well. I look forward to having that conversation with you to help you and your school become the best version of yourself!
For more information or to access support, you can contact Andy at email@example.com. Alternatively, contact SAS at 01773 814 400.