The education sector has grappled with staff wellbeing concerns for several years now, with issues such as stress, burnout, and workload raising the prospect of a potential retention crisis. These concerns reached new heights when the pandemic struck, as education workers went above and beyond to help pupils stay abreast of their learning.  

To help schools retain staff members and promote a healthy working culture, UK charity Education Support, in collaboration with Public First, recently published a report highlighting the professional stresses and strains middle leaders face in the education sector.  

The report, entitled Pressures on Middle Leaders in Schools, aims to identify key issues affecting the wellbeing of middle leaders, many of whom are overlooked in public discourse despite facing significant pressure to balance their class teacher roles with wider responsibilities. The report also advocates for strategic changes in Government policy, which Education Support believes will improve staff mental health and, by extension, educational standards.  

Through their strategic role, governors can support the welfare of all members of the school community by ensuring effective wellbeing provision. We’ve created a list of questions for governors to consider raising at their next board meeting. By posing such questions, your board can ascertain how this provision applies to middle leaders and address the concerns raised in Education Support’s report.  

Sinéad McBrearty, CEO of Education Support, explains: “Middle leaders are the beating heart of our education system, juggling class time with pupils and management responsibilities.  Our research shows they are deeply committed and passionate about their work.  It also highlights that they are overburdened, overstretched and often overwhelmed. Governors play a vital role in encouraging school leaders to prioritise middle leaders’ mental health and wellbeing. We’re delighted that Governors for Schools has responded with practical support to help governors to make immediate improvements in the care of this key staff group.” 

Questions for Governors  

Are you ensuring middle leaders have specific release time that reflects the demands of their additional responsibilities?   

  • If you are, how do you know whether this is adequate and effective? 
  • If not, how do staff currently manage these responsibilities? Can you explain the reasoning behind current arrangements and whether you plan to evaluate their efficacy? 

How do you protect staff non-working hours from school-related communications, e.g. emails?  

  • Is this referenced in a policy?  
  • Do senior leaders lead by example?  

What support systems do you have in place to protect the wellbeing of middle leaders?  

  • What are the associated costs?  
  • Do middle leaders have the opportunity to receive support from sources external to the school or trust? 
  • Do you know what support is available?  
  • How are middle leaders given time to attend wellbeing support?  

How would you describe your approach to staff absence? 

  • Do staff feel able to take time off if they are unwell? 
  • Do they actually take time off if they need it? 
  • How can schools verify whether staff are taking time off when needed?  

Do staff absence policies protect staff wellbeing?  

  • Are the expectations of staff reasonable in these policies?  
  • Have you gathered views from staff on this issue? 

How has the CPD programme for senior and middle leaders been developed?  

  • What is the impact of this support?  
  • How do you know?  
  • Is there an adequate budget for this?  
  • Is it specific to the needs of each leadership group? 

Have you undertaken any activities to understand how middle leaders in the school are feeling?  

  • Do you know what the work-life balance is like for middle leaders?  

Are there any flexible working initiatives being accessed by middle leaders?  

  • What is the process for granting flexible working requests?  
  • How do you ensure this process is fair and robust?  
  • Have any requests been refused?  
  • What was the reasoning for this?  

When did you last review the expectations/responsibilities of middle leaders?  

  • How do you ensure these remain at a reasonable level?  

When seeking views from staff on work-life balance or absence, for example, how can you assess whether staff feel empowered to be honest in their response? 

Is there any specific support the governing board can give? This could include, for example, monitoring visits to ensure specific processes adhere to policy or forming a staff wellbeing governor role on the board.  

Department of Education and Ofsted Guidance  

It is important to consider how the board can optimise wellbeing provisions from a strategic perspective. Board members should hold school leadership to account when considering how processes are implemented and monitored, rather than involve themselves with the logistics of day-to-day operations. 

The Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted have published a range of guidance documents to help governors fulfil the wellbeing aspect of their role. Notable examples include the Governance Handbook and A Competency Framework for Governance, both of which emphasise the vital role of boards in supporting staff members’ wellbeing.  

Additional DfE and Ofsted resources you may find useful include: 

The education staff wellbeing charter  

The education staff wellbeing charter represents a declaration of support for the wellbeing and mental health of everyone working in education. The document features a list of commitments designed by education providers and organisations and offers practical guidance about creating an effective staff wellbeing strategy.  

Summary and recommendations: teacher well-being research report  

This information forms part of Ofsted’s research report into teacher well-being at work in schools and further education providers. It contains a number of recommendations for leaders, as well as some information about what Ofsted is doing.  

School workload reduction toolkit 

This is a series of practical resources for school leaders and teachers to help reduce workload, produced by school leaders, teachers, and other sector experts in conjunction with the DfE.  

Keen to discover more about staff wellbeing? Sign up for the Governors for Schools Conference 2022 

Governors must ensure wellbeing remains a top priority in schools in upcoming months and years. If you want to find out more about how to raise mental health and wellbeing concerns during board meetings, we encourage you to sign up for the first session of our upcoming conference on Tuesday, 27th September 2022. We’ll discuss key takeaways from our 2022 Wellbeing Report and offer practical guidance to benefit your board.  

You can find out more about how Education Support helps schools to improve the mental health and wellbeing of their staff on their website