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Stephen  Bevan

Wellbeing in Schools - launch of an innovative new pilot programme

Authors: Stephen Bevan Director of Research

10 September 2015

By any measure, our Schools play a very big part in shaping the current and future wellbeing of a large population of people. In 2012, there were 8.2 million pupils attending 24,372 schools in England alone. In 2011, there were 438,000 teachers in state-funded schools in England (on a full-time equivalent basis). Add to this the 346,000 non-teaching staff in schools, and it is clear that each School is a community with significant ‘reach’ and influence.

Each week there seems to be a new story which puts schools under greater scrutiny, whether it is violence, the length of the school day, concern over exam results or the nutritional quality and availability of school meals.

The health and wellbeing of staff working in schools has for some time been recognised as an important area of focus, (Harris, 2007; Philipp and Schüpbach, 2010) not just for the individuals involved but also for our economy due to the direct impact health has upon it. In 2006/07 alone, the cost of employing supply teachers to cover staff sickness absence in publically funded schools stood at a £872 million. The latest figures show that over half of all teachers are taking a period of sickness absence each year, for an average duration of 9 days. This figure is considerably higher than the national average, which currently stands at 6.4 days. As well as a loss in value to the taxpayer, such levels of absence result in a huge loss of productivity to the education sector and a loss in the quality and continuity of education available to students.

There is increasing commentary about the possible impact that teacher wellbeing has on student outcomes and a recent review of the literature (Bajorek at al, 2014) conducted by The Work Foundation and the Teacher’s Support Network (TSN) highlighted a link between teacher wellbeing and educational attainment for students (one study – Briner and Dewberry, 2007 - found that 8 per cent of the variance in SATs results can be attributed to teacher wellbeing). Given additional public health concerns about the health and wellbeing of school students (eg physical exercise, obesity, diet etc) it seems logical that interventions to examine the extent to which schools as ‘communities’ are able to create environments where positive physical and psychological wellbeing can be promoted and sustained. This would not only create healthy working environments for teachers, for other school staff and for students but would also play a significant part in promoting outcomes such as reduced absences, better attainment and good health outcomes.

This week Nuffield Health announced that it is sponsoring a new senior post – a Head of Wellbeing - in a Secondary School in Oxfordshire. For two years this school will be the focus of an innovative pilot project which aims to collect baseline data from volunteer participants among staff, students and parents and then encourage participation in a range of activities and interventions to promote physical & psychological wellbeing. The Work Foundation has been involved from the start and will be working alongside the pilot as an independent evaluation partner. Over the two years of the project we will not only be monitoring changes in behaviour, health outcomes and attitudes, but also assessing how well participants take to the interventions, how sustainable any improvements in health might be and the extent to which there are lessons for other schools in the way the project is set up and run.

We know that encouraging and supporting young people to make healthy choices and to learn how to cope with the pressures and complexities of modern life are important factors in developing healthy adults. Schools have always played a big part in the process, and we are hopeful that this innovative project will shed more light on which approaches deliver the best results.

Please find a link to the pilot homepage on the Nuffield Health website here.

References

Bajorek Z, Gulliford J and Taskila T, Healthy teachers, higher marks? Establishing a link between teacher health & wellbeing, and student outcomes, The Work Foundation, 2014.

Briner, R and Dewberry, C, Staff Wellbeing is Key to School Success: a research study into the links between staff wellbeing and school performance, London: Worklife Support Ltd, 2007.

Harris, B, Supporting the Emotional Work of School Leaders, London: Sage, 2007.

Philipp A and Schüpbach, H, Longitudinal effects of emotional labour on emotional exhaustion and dedication of teachers. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Vol 15(4), 494-504, 2010.