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  • Writer's pictureKeven Bartle

Why School Leaders Need Supervision 2: Barnardos

Supporting the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Education Staff (2019) and Supervision in Education (2020)

In the months leading up to the pandemic, the Barnardos charity in Scotland published two reports that provide an interesting comparison to the Ofsted report and findings. Supporting the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Education Staff Through Professional Supervision Structures (2019) functions as a position paper and a call for evidence from the profession. In it, the authors recognise from discussions with their practitioners working in school settings that there was "a lack of any form of professional supervision, or dedicated time for reflective practice for teaching staff in relation to their own mental health and wellbeing". Noting, as have others, that school staff who attend child protection case conferences are often the only people in the room who do not have access to professional supervision, even though they are usually the professional who has the highest level of contact with the child. This "inverse care law" leaves school staff uncontained whilst having to potentially contain more in their daily work than other professionals whose needs are more fully met. The authors point to a cultural problem within education, in which the term 'supervision' is unrecognised, or is poorly understood or misunderstood as something potentially threatening or disempowering (more on this in the second post in this series).

The follow-up paper, Supervision in Education: Healthier Schools for All (2020), draws on the findings of a survey of 402 school staff members, mostly from Scotland, and subsequent round table discussions with 39 educators. The respondents were given a definition of clinical supervision on which to base their responses.

"Supervision is a two-way process which is defined as “a process by which one worker is given responsibility by the organisation to work with another worker(s) in order to meet certain organisational, professional and personal objectives” (Tony Morrison, 2001)."

Of those who had experienced supervision, often Educational Psychologists working within schools, respondents felt that the process both supported and challenged them, created a safe space for critical analysis, helped them explore the emotional elements of their work and enabled them to access guidance and advice from their supervisor. They felt that their sessions helped them address burnout and compassion fatigue, improve their professional practice and understanding, and equip them to better support children and families. 95% of respondents offered their support for a model of clinical supervision within education, but identified time pressures (80%), workload (27%), culture (25%) and appropriate staffing (23%) as potential barriers for the implementation of such a model.

Based on the findings from the round table discussions, the author identifies headteachers as being a particularly important group who need to be able to access clinical supervision as they:

"Have no structure to help them and deal with [high level child protection] cases; no one to support them with the decisions they have to make, decisions which weigh heavily on their minds even when they leave the school gates."

The author concludes that for children to be "happy, healthy, regulated", they need adults around them who are similarly contained.

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