Mental health

Just one in ten schools signs up to DfE wellbeing charter

Unions say ministers need to go 'way beyond a simple charter' to create a 'long-term culture' change

Unions say ministers need to go 'way beyond a simple charter' to create a 'long-term culture' change

Just one in 10 schools has signed up to a government charter that outlines commitments they should make to “protect” the mental health and wellbeing of staff.

The Department for Education launched an education staff wellbeing charter in November 2021, co-created by unions, teachers and charities, which invited schools to sign up to 11 commitments. 

These included driving down unnecessary workload, creating a good behaviour culture and giving staff “a voice” in decision-making. It also featured commitments for the DfE and Ofsted to meet. 

Nadhim Zahawi, then education secretary, said staff mental health was “more important than ever” and encouraged all schools “to put wellbeing at the centre of everything you do and sign up to the charter”. 

But only 2,350 schools have made the voluntary pledge – about 10 per cent of eligible state schools. 

Sarah Hannafin, a senior policy adviser at school leaders’ union NAHT, said the DfE needed to go “way beyond a simple charter” as signing up did not bring any extra resources. 

“We stressed at the time that this needed to be part of a much wider commitment … to long-term culture change. We have seen little sign of this so far.”

With schools doing “all they can”, she called for ministers to commit to a “comprehensive review into its support for staff wellbeing and a new approach”. 

The DfE said schools should “sign up when it is right” for them and when they would get the most benefit. Research will be carried out on those who did commit.

Charter helped schools ‘focus’

Balmoral Learning Trust uses the charter across its two schools in Sunderland. 

Faye Chase, its HR and governance manager, said the trust was doing many of the commitments already, such as supporting staff with professional development and surveying on mental health. 

But the charter gave it national benchmarks to work towards and staff “can see that we are taking it seriously”.

Debbie Duggan, the operational resources director at The Two Counties Trust, said the plan really helped its nine schools “focus” on its wellbeing priorities post-lockdown. 

It has also introduced a sabbatical policy – part of the flexible working commitment – to help with retention. 

‘Tick-box’ exercise concerns

But some see the charter as a “tick-box exercise”, says Patrick Ottley-O’Connor, a school wellbeing coach and former executive head. 

“The DfE could have provided something more tangible and with accountability. It relies on the headteacher or governing body being absolutely committed to creating a culture.” 

The DfE and Ofsted have pledged to review the charter’s progress this year.

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