Rosie Clayton, Big Change

Here at Big Change we think teaching should be seen as the best and most fulfilling job in the world – after all, nothing’s more important than nurturing the talents and capabilities of our next generation. Yet barely a week goes by without the issues surrounding teacher wellbeing, recruitment and retention making the news; and whilst demand rises, talented individuals continue to leave the profession in droves.

So, what can be done?

Many complex and interwoven factors impact on teacher wellbeing, motivation and retention: from the way change is implemented, to the environment, workload and culture in schools. We’re working with five different organisations at the forefront of shaping new ideas, including The Institute for Teaching (IfT). Together we’re finding solutions and strategies that will improve things for teachers across the sector. Here’s a snapshot of what we’re doing:

1) The Institute for Teaching – By drawing on psychological expertise from different fields and teaming it with the psychology around habit building the IfT are creating a programme for teachers that will support their wellbeing. Learning taken from this research will be turned into a practical and evidence-informed ‘toolbox’ for teachers as well as being used in the design of other IfT programmes, and to inform research papers and articles which the IfT hopes to share.

2) How to Thrive are specialists in practical resilience training, and run courses for teachers and parents in developing the skills and resources needed to build resilience, both in themselves and in children and young people. Their work is focused around developing six competencies that underpin the skills of resilience: Emotional Intelligence, Impulse Control, Flexible and Accurate Thinking, Self-Efficacy, Optimistic Thinking, Connecting and Reaching Out.

3) Whole Education have identified HR as a particularly acute area for improvement in schools, which often have to set up ‘back office’ functions from scratch. In response, they have developed a training and development programme for MATs, working in partnership with leading HR experts and the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development. This will include face to face support from expert strategists, mentoring from peers, and pairing with an HR expert to develop bespoke strategies linked to specific organisational goals. The programme will officially launch in March 2018.

4) Achievement for All have designed a research programme investigating the practical and positive changes that schools and other settings can make to improve teacher wellbeing. Initial research has identified eight key themes which will form the basis for ten school led action research projects: reducing workloads; increasing work-life balance; managing lead-times for change; better planning for career development; managing retention and succession; better sharing of good professional practice; developing inclusive school cultures; and developing schools as ‘healthy workplaces’. Each project will produce a set of findings which will be translated into real-life tools and materials to be shared with other schools and organisations.

5) The Difference – School exclusion rates in England have risen by 40% over the last 3 years, and those excluded are four times more likely to be born in poverty and nine times more likely to experience mental health challenges or have special educational needs. Once excluded, children in alternative provision settings often receive the poorest education – only 1% leave school with five good GCSEs including in English and Maths, and 80% end up NEET.

This is an urgent challenge, and The Difference has been set up to create a new professional development and leadership route through teaching to train exceptional teachers as mental health specialists, and place them in the schools which need them most. These leaders will then take their expertise back into the mainstream school system to support both students and staff to prevent school exclusions, and improve inclusive practices in a virtuous circle.

The Future

We’re really pleased to be working with such an innovative and diverse group of organisations. Collectively we are investigating the root causes of teacher burnout and attrition, as well as low morale at system, school and individual levels, and coming up with much needed solutions. By working collaboratively, we hope to develop new and better ideas and strategies which can be adopted and adapted by others across the sector – raising the profile and importance of teacher wellbeing.

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Catch up with last week’s 3 min wellbeing blog on the potential risks of being passionate about your work – from Jacynth Bennett, Associate Dean at the Institute for Teaching