Ministers are looking set to extend a mental health support package for headteachers as hundreds wait for help amid soaring demand.
Education Support offers six free professional supervision sessions for staff in assistant headteacher roles and above as part of a £1 million Department for Education scheme.
But the waiting list reached 200 earlier this year, with the department now looking to extend the “tailored wellbeing support” when Education Support’s contract ends in March.
In an early contract notice, the department said it was “assessing the next phase of this provision, which builds on the evidence from the current contract”.
Funding of £1.5 million will be provided initially, with the potential for it to double where “annual budgets and demand allow”.
Faye McGuinness, the director of programmes at Education Support, said she did not think “demand is going anywhere” as heads started to understand the benefits of professional supervision.
The practice is routine in the health and social care sector, where staff reflecting on work is seen to have knock-on positive impacts on mental wellbeing. But its use is not widespread in schools.
The charity’s annual 2022 Teacher Wellbeing Index showed that more than a third of senior leaders were thinking about leaving education, with heads at a high risk of suffering from depression.
McGuinness said: “I know of at least a handful of school leaders who have stayed in their roles because of help provided by the service.”
The charity was first contracted for just over a year in November 2021. This was extended to 2024 after it found heads did not have the capacity at the time to take part. Eligibility was also widened to assistant heads and college senior leaders.
Leaders wait weeks for mental health support
The DfE also provided a further £380,000 in June for the charity to double the number expected to benefit over the next year from 500 to 1,000.
Between November 2022 and July this year, Education Support had 610 applications – a 134 per cent increase on the 260 in the same period in 2021-22.
The charity managed to reduce the waitlist from 200 to under 50 over the summer, but this had again risen to 165 by the start of term. It has hired more supervisors, leaving leaders waiting between four to six weeks.
As of this month, 920 headteachers, 450 deputy heads and 267 assistant heads had applied.
“What we’ve had to do over the period of this programme is to really educate people on what professional supervision is,” McGuinness said.
“Leaders are finding and allocating time because they are understanding it can have huge benefits to their work and to them personally.”
So far, 522 school leaders have been provided supervision. The charity said it expected to support about 1,600 school and college leaders by March next year.
The original tender said 2,000 school leaders should be reached. But Education Support said it had been funded to provide “up to” that number. It was not a target.
An evaluation on the programme by York Consulting is due in the coming months.
The procurement for the next contract is expected to start in November and awarded by April.