Hinds to announce wellbeing focus at ASCL conference

Damian Hinds has commissioned his fifth advisory group since taking office – this time looking at boosting school teacher and leader wellbeing.

The education secretary will tell the annual conference of school leaders’ union ASCL today the group will lead the government’s efforts to look at “how teachers and school leaders can be better supported to deal with the pressures of the job”.

Like any really important job, teaching comes with its own challenges and, whilst rewarding, I don’t need to tell you how stressful it can be

It will be led by Paul Farmer (pictured), the chief executive of mental health charity Mind. Other members have yet to been named.

A recent survey by teaching union NASUWT found that 85 per cent of teachers have had trouble sleeping, 77 per cent have experienced anxiety and 30 per cent have turned to medication because of their job.

Hinds is expecting the new advisory group to work with the government to look at how to promote better wellbeing for teachers. Its members will take evidence from teachers and school leaders before making recommendations to the Department for Education, local authorities and academy trusts. The government is yet to give a date for when it will report back.

“Like any really important job, teaching comes with its own challenges and, whilst rewarding, I don’t need to tell you how stressful it can be,” Hinds will tell heads.

“As a society there is a much greater level of understanding about mental health and wellbeing, and it is something many of you raise with me when I visit your schools. Whilst those conversations are focused on supporting your students, I’m clear that your wellbeing is also something we need to prioritise.”

The wellbeing advisory group is at least the fifth of its kind set up by the education secretary since he was appointed in early January 2018.

Hinds announced a workload advisory group last May, an early learning apps advisory group in January, and two groups in February – one on music education and another on character.

Geoff Barton, ASCL’s general secretary, welcomed the announcement, and warned that teachers and leaders have been “too ready in the past to regard the pressures which are part of teaching as something which goes with the territory”.

Paul Whiteman, the leader of the NAHT leaders’ union, said leaders “often put their own wellbeing at risk in order to protect their teams from stress and to plug the gaps in their workforce”.

“This is clearly not a sustainable way to proceed, so it would be better to reduce the sources of stress. Prevention is better than cure, as any wellbeing expert will tell you.”

The advisory group will be formed of headteachers, principals, teaching and college unions, and professional bodies.

Farmer, who co-authored a 2017 review of mental health and employers for Downing Street, said: “The first and arguably most important step will be to start a conversation about mental health that empowers teachers, and make sure they have access to the right training and guidance to support themselves, their colleagues and their students.”

The 2017-18 labour force survey found that teaching was one of three professions with the highest reports of stress and depression.

An interim Ofsted study published in November found seven in 10 school leaders work in their free time every day, and almost two-thirds of teachers think their job is not valued by society.

Ofsted’s deep-dive into the issue is part of a specific focus on workload enacted by chief inspector Amanda Spielman.