There are many factors that contribute to poor teacher wellbeing, but a select few grab the headlines. Teacher workload is one, and accountability is another significant factor – it's one that I hope Damian Hinds' new advisory group will look into.
However, it’s critical that this advisory group doesn’t just focus on workload. It must also examine the implications that negative school culture can have on teacher wellbeing.
I've undertaken research that demonstrates that teachers’ mental health is adversely affected by negative school cultures that limit teacher agency and deprofessionalise teachers.
It’s simple: teachers perform better when they are trusted to do their jobs and when they are assigned professional autonomy.
Good teachers have always worked hard; they don't shy away from workload. By nature, they're committed and go the extra mile.
Unfortunately, far too many of these dedicated teachers are working in school cultures that place them under excessive surveillance, where they are undervalued by senior leaders and where they don't feel they belong.
This advisory group needs to learn from the very best leadership practice across the sector, where teachers are given that trust and autonomy, and disseminate those practices.
A good start
These issues can often be multiplied when you're a new teacher – there are huge expectations to face up to and often little room to make mistakes and grow.
Research from the Education Support Partnership in 2018 demonstrated that teachers in the first few years of their careers experience more mental health issues than more experienced teachers.
My own research in the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University echoes this. I found that new teachers are extremely vulnerable and more likely to leave the profession.
At the start of their careers, teachers are often perfectionists and have extremely high expectations both of themselves and their students. However, in the first few years, they're still learning how to be a teacher, especially if they have followed a one-year postgraduate course.
Our evidence suggests that they are expected to "hit the ground running" and to be fully formed teachers from the outset.
From our recent survey of over 279 NQTs, over half had experienced stress and a third did not plan to stay in teaching for the rest of their careers.
What a huge waste of resources.
It would appear that there are limited opportunities for early-career teachers to really hone their craft and experiment with, and learn from, different teaching techniques.
Often, rather than being given the opportunities to learn from making mistakes, NQTs find teaching approaches are imposed on them.
These pressures are a response to the immense pressures on school leaders, whose priority is, rightly, to raise educational standards for their students.
Room to grow
School leaders need to consider how they will nurture the professional development of new teachers in supportive ways.
Giving new teachers space to learn, the permission to make mistakes and the freedom to adapt are vital for early professional growth.
In addition, opportunities to form professional networks with other new teachers are valuable and help to promote the dissemination of effective practice.
The use of coaching is a particularly valuable tool to facilitate professional growth. In addition, new teachers need to be given space to develop professionally by engaging in research, professional networks and observing other teachers across a range of schools.
The role of initial teacher training (ITT) is critical and we welcome proposals to introduce mandatory mental health awareness in all courses.
However, these programmes should include practical advice on how to manage conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression as well as how to organise and manage workload. Courses should also introduce trainee teachers to strategies that promote resilience.
If we don't resolve these issues, we will be facing a serious crisis.
Far too many teachers in the early stages of their careers are experiencing mental ill health and burning out.
Far too many are opting to leave the profession within three to five years.
If we really want to support teachers' wellbeing, it's time to open up the conversation about how we can best support new and recently qualified teachers so that they are well placed to address the day-to-day challenges that they face.
Investing in their mental health will pay dividends in the long term by retaining them in the teaching profession. If we trust new teachers, they will go on to make a significant difference to the life chances of children and young people and to experience a rewarding, challenging and enriching career.