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  • Writer's pictureKeven Bartle

Resources are Scarce but People are Worth Resourcing: A DfE Report on Supervision

Last month saw the publication, by the DfE of a research report, the 'Evaluation of the School Leader Mental Health and Wellbeing Service'. The report outlines the findings of surveys and interviews with participants in the DfE funded programme for school leaders of peer support and telephone supervision provided by the wonderful Education Support charity. The programme, which was a part of the government's post-pandemic recovery programme, has been fully up-and-running since November 2021 and its aims are:

  • To help prevent the onset of mental health difficulties, by taking action to support the wellbeing of school leaders in England.

  • To support school leaders experiencing mental health difficulties.

  • To increase the evidence base on professional supervision and wellbeing support for school leaders and learn lessons to inform future policy and interventions.

The report outlines many of the important successes of the programme. 1221 applications were made during the timeframe captured by the report. 81% of respondents to the survey said they were very satisfied with the provision, with a further 16% saying they were fairly satisfied. In particular they valued the skilfulness of the practitioners, the confidentiality of the space provided, and the ability to share strategies that the programmes provided. As a result, over half of participants reported feeling less anxious and stressed and 94% felt fairly or strongly well supported by the provision. The report also notes that on the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWS), those surveyed gained 6.5 points across both programmes and 8.0 points on the supervision programme (although the authors note that this is observational rather than experimental data).

But the report also shows that the benefits of support go beyond the individual school leader with 87% of respondents saying that they felt that they had more ideas about how to manage their schools more effectively following their sessions. In interviews they reported feeling better, thinking more clearly, and regaining a greater sense of purpose. This enabled them to communicate more effectively, recommend support to others, share strategies they had learnt and improve their schools' support offer for others.

But there are notable concerns amongst the data provided by the report:

  1. 19% of the applicants who were offered a place on the programmes (228 school leaders) did not take up the first session. 22% (264) remained on the waiting list or had not had their first session after acceptance onto the provision.

  2. 8% (102) of participants did not complete all six sessions of support. Whilst some said that this was because their needs had been met, others cited health reasons or being signed off work as an explanatory factor.

  3. Support practitioners identified problems around take-up or completion as being related to issues with contacting always-busy school leaders, scheduling sessions with them (particularly for peer support), and rescheduling sessions that had been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances..

  4. There was a noticeable over-representation of some groups needing support in comparison to their proportionality within the sector. This included Headteachers (+12%), primary school leaders (+13%) and female school leaders (+11%).

  5. Around one-third of those interviewed said that they felt, in light of their experiences on the programmes, that headteachers should receive ongoing supervision as a part of their professional learning as standard.

  6. Interviewees identified barriers to participation, including guilt for prioritising their needs, stigma that they are not as 'resilient' or 'tough' as they ought to be in their role, a lack of 'headspace' and time, the lack of a 'culture' of wellbeing support in education, and a lack of understanding of supervision.

  7. Those delivering support identified how school leaders' struggle to find dedicated time for scheduling meetings or even responding to emails. Finding space for their personal and confidential meeting time was difficult and so was often sacrificed.

  8. Headteachers, trusts and governors are the enablers of school leaders seeking support but also the barriers to being able to do so. Where external provision is not supported, school leaders struggle to open up to others about challenges.

  9. 79% of those surveyed stated that they would like to have continued access to 1:1 supervision but that this needed to be free. They were not only worried about their stretched budgets, but felt guilty about using those budgets for their own support.

  10. Although WEMWS measures showed improvement, the mean baseline score for school leaders was within the possible/mild depression range. The post-provision, improved mean score of 49.5 for school leaders was still below the UK mean of 52.4.

In summary this report strongly suggests that support (especially supervision) for school leaders is highly beneficial for the individual, their peers and their organisations. But there are an incredible number of barriers to navigate about the use of resources (time, space, funding and culture to name a few) to ensure that school leaders get the support that they so clearly need at present. More on the evidence of these needs can be found in previous posts located here, here and here.

It is important to remember, in thinking about the resource constraints in schools, that the most costly and most important resource of all are the staff that make the magic happen. Staffing is the biggest budget line in all schools by far but it is false economy to assume that staffing costs begin and end with salaries. To use a metaphor, it is not enough to spend money on a car, but to ensure that it is maintained well, topped up with what it needs to keep it going, and is serviced regularly to ensure that hidden issues come to light before they cause a breakdown. Support for staff wellbeing is not just about wellbeing, but about the effectiveness of the colleague (including yourself) in service of the school's aims.

Headteachers, trusts and governors are the gatekeepers for the resources of time, space, money and culture within schools. If this report teaches us one thing it is that when such gatekeepers allocate resources with people in mind, it can make a difference. This is as challenging a time in education as I have seen in almost 30 years and for finances as well as wellbeing. Resource allocation is not easy, but it is most certainly necessary and is cheaper than the alternative of a collective crossing of fingers and hoping for the best in uncertain times. You, your colleagues and your staff are very much worth it..

If you are interested in reflective supervision for school leaders, peer supervision groups or establishing a culture of supervision in your school or trust, this website has details of the services offered by Mind Your Head. Contact us on or use the contact form on the website. Alternatively, if you want to find out more about the Education Support provision outlined in the report discussed in this post, follow this link.

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