I’ve had the urge this week to explore school wellbeing policies. I don’t have any particular reason to do so, it was just something that I was thinking about and wanted to investigate.
My findings came as more of a shock than I anticipated. You see if you do a google search on it, you’ll find plenty on student wellbeing but policies specifically associated with staff wellbeing, well they don’t seem to be as prominent as expected.
I started my search with ‘Teacher Wellbeing Policy‘ On the first search page I found the following:
Only one of these hits links to a policy that is in place. Just the 1!! Although there were some interesting hits on how to look after staff wellbeing and even a model wellbeing policy from NASUWT, there was a distinct lack of actuall policies.
Since I didn’t find this search of much of use, I tried ‘School Staff Wellbeing Policy‘, having considered that it’s not just about the wellbeing of teachers, but every member of school staff. Thankfully this provides more relevant hits.
The one thing I found interesting though were that over the first 3 pages of the search, only 3 out of 30 search hits were policies from Secondary schools; the majority came from Primary. Why is that? Do Primary schools focus more on staff wellbeing? Maybe they make them easier to find on their websites or just that they are more likely to make them publicly available.
Finding that most of the examples available came from Primary Schools, it got me wondering about the schools I’ve worked at. So after a bit of digging I found that out of the 5 schools, 0 have a staff wellbeing policy publicly available or perhaps they are hidden in the depths of their websites; either way I felt frustrated that schools don’t have to publicly provide a staff wellbeing policy. All of them have significant policies in regard to student wellbeing, everything from general wellbeing to safeguarding and bullying. But where were the ones for staff?
In particular, finding that one still had no publicly available staff wellbeing policy in place, actually upset me. This is because at the this school, I’d been asked to write a wellbeing policy because “you’re into that stuff”. It was only a few months later that I then experienced a breakdown due to work related stress – there are others that left under similar circumstances. I’ll let you ponder on whether there is a relationship there.
There were a few themes running through all of the policies I read.
The role of different members of staff and teams in the school from the Headteacher and Governors to individual teachers and support staff.
Who was responsible for the wellbeing, mental and physical health of staff
The support available for all staff
What I found most interesting though was the variety in many of the policies. Some policies made the Headteacher and Governing body responsible for staff wellbeing, whilst others made it very much about the individual taking responsibility for their own health and wellbeing.
The well-being of staff is the responsibility of the Head teacher. The well-being of the Head teacher is the responsibility of the Chair of Governors. Holy Trinity Primary School
Some outlined how they would improve and/or promote staff wellbeing. Some examples included:
An afternoon treat – which involved small groups of staff taking an afternoon off to wellbeing activities such as baking, yoga, sports, a museum visit, a picnic at a country park etc. with the rest of the group
Headteacher lunch – staff could drop in and join the Headteacher for lunch on a series of set dates
Provision of facilities such as tea and coffee making equipment for free
Annual reviews and communication of policies and implementation of changes
Involving staff in the decision making process e.g. sharing school calendar before publication so staff can have their say on it
Provision of whole school calendars for assessment and reporting so staff can plan their workload accordingly
Induction processes for new staff to help them find their feet
Provision of relevant and suitable PD for all staff
Celebrating staff achievements
Providing refreshments and snacks before and during after-school events such as parent’s evenings or school ceremonies
Creating a private space for staff to take a break during their lunch and break times
Some outlined the support in place or available such as:
Counselling services – face-to-face or over the phone.
School vicar and prayer groups
In-school wellbeing team
A staff wellbeing group
Whilst others took a very matter of fact approach which outlined the responsibilities and roles of different stakeholders and how to proceed with concerns surrounding wellbeing, work-based stress etc. Some went on to outline the reponse that would be taken if concerns were raised or time off requested. If I’m honest, these ones left me wondering to what extent these schools support staff or discourage staff from raising concerns surrounding staff wellbeing. I guess I’d need to visit them to really gauge the answer to that.
One in particular jumped out at me where it said:
‘Individuals will assist in the development of good practice and ensure that they do not, through their actions or omissions, create unnecessary work for themselves or their colleagues”. Annon
This statement really surprised me for several reasons.
What constitutes ‘unnecessary’ work for themselves and others?
How can one ensure they do not create unnecessary work?
Will there be a list of ‘must-do’ and ‘don’t do’ work?
What constitutes an omission?
This also got me pondering about the capability procedures associated with the actions and omissions, if you’re not contributing to the development of good practice, are you then creating further work for others? It really got me wondering.
What makes a good staff wellbeing policy?
Note: This is completely a personal consideration, I’ve not had any experience in HR or school leadership beyond HoD but I have experienced the negatives of poor work-life balance, a series of schools with different levels of consideration and support for staff. Therefore please don’t take what I say here as anything other than my opinion.
Firstly any staff wellbeing policy should identify what the school aims to achieve for staff overall. What does ‘wellbeing’ actually mean to the school, the leaders, the staff? How will they cater for everyone?
Direct to other policies
It should direct to other policies in place that support staff wellbeing e.g. marking and assessment, behaviour, sickness and absence, safeguarding, performance management, professional development etc. If these policies don’t already, the wellbeing policy should briefly outline how these other policies support and promote staff wellbeing.
Role of Stakeholders
The policy should outline who the stakeholders are such as the Headteacher, governors, SLT, teachers, support and office staff along with their role and responsibility in building an environment that supports and nurtures it staff, their wellbeing and their work-life balance.
Next should be an outline of what the school is doing and will do over the time frame of the policy and then beyond. Actions that will help to manage and reduce workloads, that will value staff and provide solutions to challenges. Essentially it comes down to how will they address stress.
This doesn’t mean the introduction of ‘wellbeing’ activities – token gestures that falsely shout “we care about you”. Actual strategies that help to manage workload, foster a work-life balance and support staff during stressful school periods or events in their life.
This does mean… no enforced ‘Wellbeing Days’, the kind where staff are sent off to do activities that if they wanted to do them they could do in the time they gain from better working practices,policies and procedures.
Sure offer activities before and after school or at lunchtime that staff can join in if they choose too such as after school exercise classes, morning yoga, tea with the teachers etc. but don’t make it compulsory or an explicit part of the policy. Instead it should be outlined as provision of opportunities and not compulsory activities.
Practical actions should be associated with other school policies and thus actions that help to support staff, their workloads and to manage whole-school or individual challenges.
In-school Support and Procedures
Next the policy should outline the support available in the school and the procedures in place to guide staff in what to do when they are struggling. This could be people to talk to and people that can guide and help within the school such as HR and admin, the school nurse/counsellor/wellbeing team and of course the Headteacher. No body should be afraid to speak to the Head of the school, if they are in my opinion they are doing the job wrong.
External Support and Procedures
In addition to the support available and the procedures to take within the school, the policy should also outline how staff can get support elsewhere such as through national and local organisations and charities. The school may provide a wellbeing package to its staff which may provide staff with access to counsellors and other services; this too should be outlined and contact details provided.
Finally, the policy should outline how they will manage any issues that arise. This should be a set of procedures so staff know exactly what to do, who to talk to and what the potential responses will be.
Perhaps more of a decision tree rather than a set of bullet points is what I’d envisage. This is so staff can clearly see the steps and procedures in place to support them, the help them manage and to enable them to thrive.
I’m not entirely sure where I’d place this, but I do believe there should be an outline of how the impact of the policy is assessed, how wellbeing is monitored and how frequently the policy will be reviewed. The review process should involve all members of school staff and should have a degree of frequency i.e. termly, annually.
If you’re interested in a bit of further reading on staff wellbeing here are a few links that I have found interesting:
The last thing I’d like to say on the matter though is that the policy isn’t necessarily the important part here, it’s the implementation and enactment of the aims, actions and procedures to foster an environment that values and cares for its staff. It’s about the creation of a workplace that places student and staff wellbeing in the same high regard and the development of working relationships that demonstrate care, compassion and empowerment.
Why? Because we want the best for our students. Happy, healthy teachers can create happy, healthy students.
Please feel free to share your experience of school wellbeing policies, the good and the bad.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.