Mental health

Heads unable to take up wellbeing support because of workload

Study evaluating government-funded service found overworked leaders couldn't find free hour

Study evaluating government-funded service found overworked leaders couldn't find free hour

19 Oct 2023, 18:29

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Overworked school leaders struggled to find an hour free in their schedule to take part in free, government-funded mental health support sessions, an evaluation of the scheme found.

Education Support has been offering six professional supervision sessions for staff in assistant headteacher roles and above as part of a £1 million Department for Education scheme.

A study evaluating the service, published Thursday, urged the Department for Education to consider “how the culture around expectations for leaders accessing support could be changed”.

It said this could include “setting clear expectations (and associated time/funding) for school leaders to access supervision or support for mental health and wellbeing”, after a number spoke of “how isolating the role can be”.

“Barriers [to engaging with the support] are related to school leader workload and expectations around school leaders accessing support.”

19% didn’t start mental health programme

The programme offers “peer support” sessions which provided leaders “with an opportunity to discuss the challenges they face within a group of others”.

Supervision was also offered to “leaders in need of or preferring one-to-one support”. The sessions consisted of “confidential conversations about the work they do and how the challenges they face impact them as professionals”.

Up to the end of April, 314 (26 per cent) applicants had completed all six sessions, while 102 (8 per cent) “stopped engaging” before the last of their appointments.

Meanwhile, almost a fifth (19 per cent) of the 1,221 eligible applicants to the scheme – which was launched in 2021 – came from people who did not start the programme after being offered a slot.

Leaders report reduced stress and anxiety

The study noted that some had “feelings of guilt around taking time for support and prioritising their own needs”, as previously reported by Schools Week, while others identified stigmas “around seeking help” as a barrier to engagement.

Meanwhile, those working on the project said some leaders found it difficult to “find an hour/hour and a half within the working week to participate”.

A further 264 (22 per cent) applicants “were awaiting contact about their first session or had been placed on a waiting list”.

Those who benefited from the support reported said they had “reduced stress and anxiety, improved management of workload and wellbeing, and greater clarity of thinking”.

Government is looking to extend the scheme.

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