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  • Writer's pictureKeven Bartle

Why School Leaders Need Supervision 1: Ofsted (2019)

Teacher Wellbeing at Work (2019)

Let's start in the good old pre-pandemic days of July 2019, when working in schools was all sunshine and roses. Or, as the Ofsted Teacher Wellbeing Research Report (2019), drawing from Health and Safety Executive data, put it at the start of their report, "teaching staff and education professionals report the highest rates of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in Britain". The methodology employed by Ofsted was to randomly sample 1000 schools and 250 FE providers that would be representative of the sector, for surveys. From this:

"2,293 staff from 290 schools and 2,053 staff from 67 providers responded to the questionnaire. We selected 19 schools and six FES providers for focus-group interviews and visits. They were chosen based on the reported levels of well-being at work, phase of education, type of institution and region."

The report makes a lot of the subjectivity of the responses and acknowledges that there were no objective measures chosen because "using objective measures has disadvantages because many are only proxies for measuring well-being". Interestingly, and in spite of this claim, the report does refer to days lost to sickness absence, which is an objective measure.

The report identifies that teacher's wellbeing is "worryingly low" and that the education sector "must act now on improving teachers’ occupational well-being at a school/provider and sector level". Of those education staff surveyed only 54% report high or very high life satisfaction compared with 82% in the general population. Senior leaders and support staff reported much higher levels of occupational wellbeing than teachers and middle leaders, and there was a distinct correlation between the Ofsted grading of a provider and the levels of occupational wellbeing felt by their staff (you can guess which way around that correlation worked).

The report's findings, which make liberal use of the words "perceived" and "self-reported" to provide some distance for policy-makers and senior policy-influencers, are arresting nonetheless. School staff have "limited policy influence", "insufficient funding" and a "sense of de-professionalisation". Workload (51 hours per week for staff generally, rising to 57 hours for senior leaders) leads to a poor work-life balance for educators as they work into their evenings, weekends and holidays. Poor behaviour and combative parents are identified as factors, as are DfE approaches to policy implementation and Ofsted inspections. Lack of support for students with the greatest needs is cited as negatively impacting on wellbeing, as are staff shortages (particularly in specialist areas), levels of pay within the profession and a felt lack of trust within the sector.

Although the report recommends that government provides more resources for external providers to support schools, there are no recommendations around additional resources for schools to address wellbeing issues (just to encourage schools to take up tools to analyse how they are deploying their existing resources). The report offers no specific advice on how the DfE or school leaders can better support staff, other than "by creating a positive and collegial working environment in which staff feel supported, valued and listened to and have an appropriate level of autonomy." This is all well and good in theory but feels like a phrase that can be interpreted at will by those with seniority in schools, rather than a distinctive and evidence-informed strategy that will change what is rightly identified as a big issue.

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