Education - mental health and wellbeing

12 May 2021

Key concerns and challenges faced as a sector by school leaders are managing the mental health and wellbeing of staff and pupils.

In October 2019 we talked to school leaders about what were the key concerns and challenges that they faced as a sector. At this point, managing the mental health and wellbeing of staff and pupils was already in the top 3 concerns for the short, medium and long-term. We published these findings with a dedicated section in our Education Barometer in February 2020 and then the world changed dramatically because of the pandemic.

Just a month later, schools were closed as we entered lockdown and remained closed for another six months for the majority of children. What didn’t stop was the teaching and care of children’s wellbeing. Teachers were still required to staff schools for key worker and vulnerable children and had to provide anxious parents and children with work or lessons for home-schooling. There was no testing at this point and no Easter holiday break for teachers, just a dig in, help us through the crisis approach.

And the rollercoaster has continued since then, and it’s been a very long ride. Somehow, they have managed the difficulties of creating Covid secure school environments, bubbles, further lockdowns, creating structured lessons (online or offline) for home-schooling, adapting to technology, learning new ways of safeguarding children and helping children deal with the emotional impact of the last year. But at what cost to them personally and to the sector as a whole?

We have carried out two sets of research since the pandemic started, one in October 2020 and another recently, at the end of March 2021, each to 500 senior teachers, so we can track the rising concern in the sector.

  • Pupil stress and anxiety has risen from the 4th biggest challenge schools are facing in October 2020 to number 1 in March 2021 – a huge 26% rise

Between October 2020 and March 2021:

  • Pupil mental health concern has risen 10% to 75%
  • Pupil anxiety has risen 16% to 80%
  • Teacher anxiety has risen 24% to 80%

So where is the sector now:

  • 77% are concerned about teacher mental health
  • 41% of teachers said they were struggling to cope
  • 34% of teachers are saying they want to leave teaching as ‘we are under unbearable pressure’

Teachers are tired and anxious, dealing with an increased workload. Virtual learning is possible, but not necessarily easy and the preparation of lessons, engaging and managing pupils in this way has been a learning curve and extremely time consuming.

As we started to move out of the lockdowns through the Government’s roadmap, these were the top 5 concerns for school staff:

  1. Pupil stress and anxiety - 65%
  2. Increased pressure on staff to help pupils catch up - 64%
  3. Pupils struggling to catch up on time lost - 58%
  4. Increased workloads - 56%
  5. Low staff morale - 45%

So what do these concerns mean for schools from an insurance and risk management perspective?

Insurance and risk management might not be at the top of mind when looking at these concerns, but it is vital to consider them, as good risk management practice will help avoid the risk of a claim. Stressed and anxious staff could lead to a drop in teaching quality, impact on the school’s reputation and possibly a shortage of staff if they are medically signed off.  How schools handle the workload of staff under pressure and any return to work is important and professional advice may be needed here.

Prevention is better than cure

Faith Kitchen – Education Director - “These research findings show there is a serious risk to schools and school leaders need to ensure there is sufficient support for their staff, as pupils complete the rest of the year.”

Those responsible for health and safety need to make sure that regular risk assessments are carried out to ensure identification and management are appropriate.

Vikki Woodfine, a specialist regulatory lawyer at DWF Law LLP, says “Over recent years, we have seen that the HSE has started to acknowledge mental health as well as physical health when considering an employer's duties to protect employees...the increasing recognition in society of the importance of looking after mental health has resulted in the HSE becoming more interested in the topic.”

The HSE have published guidelines to follow, as well as supporting resources including the Talking Toolkit: Preventing work-related stress in schools. Our survey found that many of the concerns of staff fall into health and safety areas, such as – the risk of catching Covid (70%) and lack of social distancing (53%). Listening to staff concerns and putting sensible, practical steps in place to minimise these risks will often help to reassure staff and reduce anxiety, plus being able to evidence actions can help protect a school in the event of a claim.

An Enterprise Risk Management framework may help to apply a proactive and more holistic approach, allowing for consideration of risks across the entire organisation at both a strategic and operational level.

Registering on Ecclesiastical’s - The Hub for Education - will also allow education establishments to find insight, information, tools and checklists to help them become more resilient to the challenges they face.

Managing mental health and wellbeing

76% of schools are actively providing additional support to staff and pupils, but 57% think more is needed.

These are the top 5 ways that help is being provided:

  1. Wellbeing policy - 37%
  2. Counselling services for pupils - 28%
  3. Additional training for staff on managing mental health issues - 26%
  4. Introduce mindfulness techniques - 25%
  5. Counselling services for employees - 21%

What help is available?

We have a number of tools and guidance included in our Education insurance policy that may be able to assist :

  • Counselling helpline – a confidential service for all staff (including any member of their family who permanently lives with them).
  • HR consultancy.
  • Access to online legal resources and employment manual.
  • Public relations (PR) crisis and media assistance helpline.

Mental Health at work, the website curated by MIND, also provides guidance and toolkits about dealing with mental health concerns.

What next?

The future is still unclear despite having a roadmap. The success of the vaccination programme, variants of the virus and what long-term impact this has on children’s education are all unknown. What is certain is that schools need to make sure that they consider making mental health and wellbeing a priority. There are still many challenges ahead and having a strong, healthy will give the best chance of navigating these successfully.

Contrasting orange blocks with abstract fountain pen