Launching Primary Research with Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey

We haven’t blogged for a while, owing to our own workload and a few things that we’ve been planning for this term. But we’re very excited about the next stage of our wellbeing research project: carrying out primary research that will help us understand the health and wellbeing of education staff across a range of schools.

We have been plotting for a while to create a survey that encompasses the principles of Self Determination Theory, to ensure that we can analyse data that is as credible as possible, and ties in with our values and beliefs about an accurate measure of wellbeing in the work place. Ben Gibbs from the Relationships Foundation has been a fantastic supporter of the project, and initially we were looking to collaborate on our own survey; however, we then found Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, and it was too good to pass up!

Britain’s Healthiest Workplace: what is it, how does it work?

A joint effort between RAND, Vitality, Cambridge University, and Mercer, Britain’s Healthiest Workplace is a nation-wide survey that asks individual staff members a range of questions about their physical and mental health, and their wellbeing and motivation in the workplace. It’s completely free for schools and employers, too.

These are what we view as the benefits:

  • Staff members have the opportunity to answer a range of questions about their health, lifestyle, and workplace (individual surveys are confidential and unseen by employer).
  • Staff immediately receive a personalised report about their health, lifestyle, feelings about work, which may offer interesting insights that they hadn’t unpicked before.
  • In October, workplaces receive a report analysing all results across their workplace, with recommendations. This data picks out trends within the school, but also links the organisation to others that are similar.
  • Recommendations are then provided to help improve employee lifestyle and wellbeing.

In the past, we have found that some staff are sceptical about filling out surveys created or managed by their own institution. They are potentially suspicious about its motives, or concerned that leaders may be able to examine their responses. The nature of this survey means that it is run by Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, the individual receives their own private report, and the organisation later receives analysed data about the data set as a whole. In that respect, we really believe this survey is a win-win for staff and leaders!

For those interested, here is a step-by-step guide to launching the survey in your school or workplace:

Step One – Registration: Register your school. This includes one or two individuals whose email addresses will be registered as the leads for the survey and its subsequent data.

At this point you can also identify if you wish to segment the survey into different departments / ‘offices’. For example, you could create separate departments for ‘Teaching Staff, ‘Learning Support / Teaching Assistants’, ‘Office, Site and Administrative staff’, etc


Step Two – Employer Survey: the survey leader will be contacted, and at this point, fills out a 45-minute survey about the organisation itself. This helps contextualise everyone else’s data when staff take the survey. Questions include staff size, turnover, staff demographics, etc.

Step Three – Staff surveys: send your survey link to staff for them to fill in. Consider giving them a set deadline so that you can give reminders week by week. We suggest that staff are allocated 20 minutes of time to do this to ensure high take up; consider using the first or last 20 minutes of a staff meeting or CPD.

Step Four: staff receive a personalised report about their health and wellbeing, immediately after they submit. The organisation cannot see this, and it means individuals can reflect on their own results without being concerned about what others can see.

Step Five: results for the organisation are published in October. These include charts, graphs, rankings etc. about how staff are feeling. The layout of this report is excellent: clear, accessible and very easy on the eye, with the data already analysed for leaders to start reflecting upon.

How we are using the survey:

The results from this survey arrive, at an organisational level, in October. While this doesn’t provide immediate feedback, it’s worth remembering that improving staff wellbeing is an ongoing, long-term process. The data generated will be useful, but it should be part of a wider discussion and ideas from school leaders.

We will evaluate the findings and use it to inform ideas about how we can continue to make our school a fulfilling place to work for all staff.

What we’re just as excited about is partnering with our Catholic Diocese to roll out this survey across around 50 schools. Our plan is to pool data from these schools so that we have a sample size in the thousands to examine, with a range of primary and secondary schools from across the South East of England.  We will then feedback to the schools about what we found overall. This process could be replicated by other Diocese’ or Multi Academy Trusts.

Please keep following as we continue to follow this process; we will be presenting our findings at ResearchEd Surrey in October.

We really hope this post encourages schools to trial this excellent survey

Sam and Rachel


Teacher Autonomy and the NFER report – a few thoughts…

Regular readers of our blog will know that we are keen proponents of Ryan and Deci (2000) and their model of Self Determination Theory, which suggests that our basic psychological needs are autonomy, competence and relatedness (see blog for more!), and how they need to be met so that we can flourish and thrive at work. So, we were delighted to hear that the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) had released their study on teacher autonomy – click here. With teacher wellbeing and stress, it’s easy to get sucked into a multitude of factors – there are so many variables and stages, and it can lose tangibility in many articles and reports. But, focusing on autonomy is a breath of fresh air; we believe that autonomy is the main pillar of teacher wellbeing. The report by the NFER is timely, focused, and doesn’t attempt to preach to teachers or leaders, but rather presents findings with clarity and simplicity. And the data speaks for itself.

Dr Kulvarn Atwal, Headteacher and author of The Thinking School (see our blog!) said to us in his office ‘without autonomy, you don’t bring your brain to work’. It’s a catchy thought, but also steeped in common sense. When we lack control over our role and tasks, our motivation inevitably drops, and job satisfaction decreases. And that is echoed in the report, whose main findings we’ll briefly summarise:

  • Teachers are 16% less likely than similar professions to have ‘a lot of influence’ over how they do their job.
  • Teachers have an acceptable amount of autonomy over their classroom management and teaching methods, but much less over curriculum, assessment, data use, and professional development.
  • Teacher autonomy is strongly associated with improved job satisfaction, and greater intention to stay in teaching.
  • Teacher autonomy ranks at the bottom of most professions, along with healthcare professionals and public service professionals.
  • Teachers, regardless of autonomy level, worked over 50 hours per week on average.

(NFER 2020 – Teacher Autonomy: how does it relate to job satisfaction and retention?)

The report leaves quite an open conclusion, and stresses the need for more research to be done into a variety of areas of autonomy.

Here are our conclusions and thoughts going forward. For now, these are brief summaries of our thoughts, but we’ll continue to blog on each in more detail.

  1. We need to rethink professional development, aka CPD.

Many schools seem to be stuck in the rut of the traditional CPD model of whole-staff meetings looking at a variety of Teaching and Learning strategies. These are often one-size fits all, and tend to skip from one topic to another; they may well be research focused and high in quality, but perhaps not always personalised or long term.

Is professional development too often ‘done to’ teachers, rather than with them? Do schools have a long-term programme for its teachers and their development on an individual level, allowing them to have some autonomy over their development each year, with specific goals in mind?

Schools should ask their teachers and leaders more about how they want to develop, and then help facilitate that with tailored sessions, research projects, and collaboration within and between schools. Teachers will thrive if they can have more autonomy over how they improve and learn as a professional.

2. Workload is still an issue, but it’s not about ‘amount’ of work

Teachers know that high work load is part of the territory, and we are usually willing to put in extra time for the children in our care. But the research in this report suggests that if we have perceived control over our work, the hours mean little to us.

Autonomy breeds motivation, even with a high workload. So let’s rephrase the workload agenda and focus on what we can do to give teachers more autonomy over what they do outside of the classroom.

3. Autonomy and job satisfaction = improved retention.

The report says that teachers who felt increased job satisfaction based on their high levels of autonomy, also foresaw themselves being teachers for longer than those with lower autonomy.

Surely, we must take this and run with it. Teachers staying in the profession longer means experienced, passionate practitioners remaining in post to teach our children and train up new generations of teachers. It takes the pressure off waning recruitment numbers. And, finally, if we see improved autonomy on a national level, surely this will become associated with being a teacher, and recruitment will pick up again?

4. Does there need to be a wider consultation about autonomy in a range of public sector roles?

It was interesting for us to see that teachers’ autonomy languished at the bottom of the table along with healthcare professionals and public services professionals. We attended a roundtable event at WhatWorksWellbeing last week along with social workers and police officers. The discussions were energetic; we were in a room of passionate professionals who gave everything for the vulnerable people in their care. But none of us identified our roles as having much control or autonomy, and burnout seemed rife in these professions. Do we need to review how a range of public sector jobs are structured and supported to help a range of professionals with their autonomy?

5. Conducting primary research to pursue these ideas further

Our research project is determined to address psychological needs, focusing on: autonomy, relatedness and competence. We are currently looking for some funding to roll out a survey which focuses on these needs among teachers, so that we can get a credible sample size to crunch the numbers and see how teachers are feeling based on the Self Determination Theory model. Hopefully we can help contribute to the discussion and partner up with fantastic organisations like the NFER in the future.

Thank you for reading

Sam and Rachel


‘Have a quiet cuppa and relax!’… But what does research actually say about how teachers unwind?

For the last six months, we have had ‘teacher wellbeing’ switched on with Google Alerts, meaning that every weekend we are shown how many articles across the web have included this specific phrase. It can take hours to sweep through them all, and thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom. Many of the articles or posts provide handy tips: ‘7 ways to beat school stress’, or ‘top tips to unwind after work’. These articles are usually positive, well-intentioned, and full of genuinely handy pointers for teachers who might be struggling, or those who just want to try something out to boost how they feel. However, it is hard to reject all manner of cynicism after months of trawling through articles that offer few citations or supporting material from research. People are people, and we are subjective beings, so not everything can be recorded or proven as such; but, for us, an evidence base is important if you are recommending how people can improve their lives.

Of course, as I mentioned, there is a lot of good going on out there. The internet is a-flurry with teachers, health and psychology practitioners, and consultants offering support through videos and podcasts; reaching people in need is becoming more engaging and creative, which should be celebrated. We are particular fans of Dr Rangan Chatterjee (see links below), who has a fantastic podcast and YouTube channel, as well as being an author of some excellent books. He focuses on wellness in body and mind, and applies not only his own expertise, but frequently interviews other experts in sleep, exercise, nutrition, or those with an inspiring story to tell. His advice, especially in his new book, often centres around not just listening to his expertise, but then offers ways for you to go and take some time out for yourself.

On the surface, this sort of intervention can play into the hands of those who label wellbeing as fluffy and intangible (including us six months ago), and so we were determined to access research that added some credible weight to the process of ‘unwinding’ and finding time for yourself. Rachel shared recently that she has to listen to a Dr Chatterjee, or similar podcast, on the way home from work, to distract her from the day and stop her thinking about work into the evening. This comment prompted us to find out whether this is a legitimate form of reducing stress. Does ‘unwinding’ actually help?

Well, we found some cracking studies!

Recently we were put in touch with Mark Cropley, Professor of Psychology at Surrey University. Mark has done some fascinating research into ‘work-related rumination’, meaning how much we think about work in our leisure time. Some of the studies examine how much teachers ruminate about work at home, and firstly categorises them into ‘high strain’ or ‘low strain’, based on their job demands, the control over aspects of their work, and how their skills are utilised. For example, a teacher working in a demanding yet unsupportive environment with little control over their workload would rightly be classed as high strain.

Unsurprisingly, the high job strain teachers found it much harder to stop thinking about work in the evening; by 7pm, the low strain teachers’ ruminations were reducing nicely, whereas high strain still had similar levels of rumination right up until 9pm. This can seem insignificant on a graph, but think about it: should we really be thinking, or worrying, about our work until 9pm and even later? The studies even suggest that watching television wasn’t an escape from work ruminations.

The studies find that work-related ruminations are not necessarily linked to how much work you do at home, suggesting that it is more about the teachers’ perceptions of their workplace, its demands and their control over work, that cause them to think or worry about school long into the evening. So it isn’t merely a case of saying ‘no emails after 6pm’ and ‘don’t take marking home with you.’ It goes deeper than that, and back to the model of Self Determination Theory and our basic psychological needs.

The research also states that higher instances of work rumination occur when alone, which advocates spending leisure time with family and friends.

More recently, Dr Cropley has researched how work-related ruminations link to heart rate variability and cortisol secretion; in other words, the research began to assess how stress levels caused by work ruminations could start to affect physiological health. Cortisol, a stress hormone, increases its secretion when one is feeling stressed or on high alert (think fight or flight), and has risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, cognitive functioning, depression, and even upper respiratory infection. A 2013 study (referenced below) found that teachers who had high work rumination in the evening had high cortisol secretion when compared with the low ruminating group. Clearly, not being able to unwind has more impact on us than just feeling a bit preoccupied with work.

So, what does this all mean? Well firstly, in a perverse way, we were delighted to find a set of studies which examined how much teachers think about work at home, and how it is clearly linked to higher stress and, inevitably, reduced wellbeing. It felt like a lightbulb moment that validates so many of the ‘fluffy’ articles and posts we mentioned earlier on.

As for recommendations, here’s what we have come up with so far, having read this research:


  • The studies suggest that those who find distractions from work are able to reduce or avoid work-related ruminations. These ‘distractions’ could range from hobbies, exercise, spending time with family and friends, or to engaging with mindfulness techniques, videos or podcasts.
  • Be aware that work can begin to cloud your mind, and take active steps to do things in your leisure time that take a break from your work. However, these need not be unrelated to education; many of us take to EduTwitter or other platforms to engage with likeminded professionals to be reinvigorated about our vocation and to forget our daily challenges!
  • ‘You’ time is actually very important. Have a cuppa. Read a book. Unwind and switch off. We all think we can battle through our work-dominated lives, but who knows what toll this will take on us unless we take time to unwind.
  • Sleep! The studies also found that the 6 hours 48 minute average sleeping time in their participants was slightly lower than the national average.


  • Ultimately, the studies concluded that it wasn’t the workload alone that bothered teachers, but it was the demands placed upon them. The research suggests that teachers who lack autonomy and control think about work more into their evenings, and are unable to switch off or unwind. Those who are in demanding workplaces struggle similarly.

And, so, this seems to come full circle to most of our blog posts so far. Yes, teachers could be offered CBT or mindfulness courses, and those would probably be quite effective at helping them unwind and cope with their working lives.

But why continue to try and cure what we could prevent? Schools and leaders could help their teachers unwind from work and use their leisure time to actually rest and relax by creating schools that show more trust and empowerment of their teachers and ease up on the relentless drive for accountability.

And then teachers truly will be able to have a cuppa and a bit of time to themselves.

Thanks for reading.

Sam and Rachel


Dr Rangan Chatterjee  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDnwlb3IQDPJtFysPUJbDFQ

Cropley and Purvis (2003) Job strain and rumination about work issues during leisure time: A diary study. EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF WORK AND ORGANIZATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY, 2003, 12 (3), 195–207

Cropley, et al (2013) The Relationship Between Work-Related Rumination and Evening and Morning Salivary Cortisol Secretion. Stress Health 31: 150–157

Cropley, et al (2006) Job strain, work rumination, and sleep in school teachers. EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF WORK AND ORGANIZATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY 2006, 15 (2), 181–196

Griffith, et al (1999) An investigation of coping strategies associated with job stress in teachers. British Journal of Educational Psychology (1999), 69, 517–53


‘You look terrible! But well done for coming in’ – Presenteeism – what is it, and how can we reduce it?

I’ve had a cold over the Christmas holiday. It was inevitable, I suppose. The clichéd battle of body and mind over invading illnesses during term time; you are victorious, and then the holidays appear as cavalry for infection, and you succumb. We’ve all been there. At least, though, when I could feel my throat tightening and a headache creeping in, my biggest worry was not being able to drink as much booze on Christmas Day. If the attack had taken me in term time, I would have felt very differently. Not physically different, of course, but psychologically much more distressed. Anxiety about what people would think. Stress about how much cover work to set. A groggy trudge through numerous emails to organise my absence.

In fact, I probably wouldn’t bother. More likely, I’d go in, deliver my lessons, become more ill and fatigued, and potentially infect colleagues and the children with my germs! But that’s okay, isn’t it, because the kids got their teacher? Well, this is the path most teachers seem to follow. 50% of teachers and (59% of leaders) feel compelled to come to work whenever they feel unwell (Teacher Wellbeing Index 2019), and the study also finds a positive correlation between those who are stressed and those who come into work regardless of them being ill, known as presenteeism.

The CIPD projected that in 2018, 86% of workers across industries saw presenteeism at work, compared with just 26% in 2010. Perhaps part of the reason is because the term was less widely used a few years ago, but mostly it implies that workplaces are demanding more from their workers in terms of hours and pressure. Worryingly, only 25% of those who have seen presenteeism in their organisation claim that anything is done to help employees, or to discourage them from this unhealthy culture.

It’s also easy for the mind to think of absence and immediately picture a sore throat, flu or a stomach bug, all common ailments that whip through workplaces (and especially schools) during autumn and winter. But stress is an ever-growing cause of absence, too, and staff are just as likely to work through intense stress as they are the common cold.

Regardless of the reason for your need to be absent, we’ve all felt the feeling when you realise that you might need time off. The panic of how much work we’ll need to do, while ill, to set cover. The impact on our colleagues. The difficult chat with the member of SLT who will ask us why we need to have time off. Let’s break down why teachers and education professionals are more likely to go in:

Why does presenteeism exist in education?

1. We all want to teach our students. We see them every day, we build great relationships. And we want the best for them, so we know that the expert teacher they see every day is the right person to teach them. We feel a sense of guilt that we aren’t there to teach our young charges!

2. Setting cover – this is an onerous task at the best of times (e.g. when going on a trip), let alone when you are under the black cloud of illness and only have hours to do this in. Creating high quality cover for all your classes can take all of those hours, especially when you’re operating below your usual standards!

3. Impact on other staff. Ultimately, we know that someone’s day will be impacted when we are absent. Whether it’s our HOD, printing cover and sorting out logistics, the teaching staff who must cover your lessons, or possibly the cover supervisor who you worry will chat too much to your year 8 class when you have just got them where you want them!

4. SLT expectations. Leadership Teams, although we must stress not all, can be unsympathetic when it comes to staff absence, and this can manifest in different ways. Whatever their reaction to your illness, for some teachers this gauntlet is one too many to run.

5. Workload: being out of school inevitably leads to more work. It’s a day fewer to check off items on your to-do list, answer emails, mark things that are probably building up. And then you return from your absence, and the work is still there, and time is even tighter.

6. The way we are perceived. Many workplace cultures celebrate the martyr ethos of running yourself into the ground for the sake of the cause. ‘We’re in it for the kids’ is a very noble pursuit, but who will suffer most if a teacher experiences mental or physical burnout because they ignored the symptoms and merely plodded on, blinkered as to what they really needed?

We need to remove barriers to staff being absent

So, there are plenty of reasons to avoid being absent when you’re a teacher or education professional. Put simply, it can be more trouble than it’s worth. But that attitude ignores some vital pieces of the puzzle. Firstly, long-term mental and physical health will not be fostered by an attitude that pays casual or flippant attention to how staff feel when they are at work. Most employers worry about absenteeism: how can we reduce number of days absent, they plot. But, in reality, it is presenteeism which is the bigger issue – this is the preventative measure, not the painkiller to treat a symptom. A Financial Times article recently drew upon data which suggested that the number of days productive work lost every year due to presenteeism (a staff member being ill or distracted at work) far exceeds number of days absent.

If a nurturing culture exists in a school whereby staff know when they need to have a day off, they are trusted to do so without cross examination, it will make them feel positively to their work, and build a strong rapport that will far exceed an annual spate of tonsillitis. If teachers know that cover is sorted well within departments and that it is run smoothly at school, they will stay at home and actually rest, rather than panic about what email they need to send next. “Sally, stop vomiting for a minute and send me that worksheet for 8X2!”.

Here is what we’d recommend to teachers and leaders regarding presenteeism and absence:

  • Staff like to feel trusted. It empowers them and creates great rapport. Leaders: If a staff member calls in sick, sympathise with them, ask them how they are – tell them not to worry! Rest and recuperation are the most important thing. In the long term, your understanding will yield much more time in school and loyalty than the absence period of this sick staff member.
  • Teachers are humans. We all get ill. No guilt required. Teachers, none of us want to be ill, or miss a day in front our students, but it can happen. Next time you feel that illness grip you on a school night, feel free to fight it and go to battle. But if you do succumb, focus on getting better, not feeling guilty or anxious. We shouldn’t have to wrestle with our conscience when we are already experiencing a mental or physical health ailment.
  • Cover – there can be good systems. We’d recommend that every department invests time over the course of a year (INSET, gained time), making 2-3 lessons of cover for each scheme of work, so that if you are off during a unit, you can set immediate cover, whichever lesson you happen to be on. The HOD can then print it out and, hey presto. Alternatively, generic cover for any topic could be centrally created in advance
  • Lose the martyr culture. Teachers and leaders, it’s okay to be more open about our health and mental health. We all work incredibly hard and make many sacrifices for work. So let’s be open about out struggles and look after each other, not by ‘powering through’ but by giving healthy advice and making sure the school culture is about long-term health and wellbeing of staff – that is surely best thing for the students and their outcomes.

For us, it’s so important that teachers, who work extremely hard, can be absent if they need to, like other professions. They should be trusted as adults and professionals that if they ask for a day off, it’s because it’s needed, and that if they are off, they can recuperate without worrying about the ramifications when they return to work.

Without wishing to speculate wildly, it seems that in the long term, if your school and its leaders are open, supportive and trusting about people inevitably needing some time off, it will make you more loyal to that organisation, boost your morale, and perhaps make you healthier (mentally and physically) in the long run. And that’s what schools and their children need.

Thank you for reading

Sam and Rachel


Biscuits at Break Time! Staff perks – what are they, and do they work?

Biscuits at break time, yoga at 3.30 in the main hall, wine at the end of term, and an annual wellbeing day. Schools, generally, do a lot to reward the work of their teachers and to give them a break. Rachel and I flippantly titled our blog ‘biscuits at break time’ at the dawn of this project in jest, feeling both appreciative of sugary treats that some of us might be lucky to consume at our workplaces, but also hinting with a sardonic twist that these perks are merely a band-aid on a bullet wound, so to speak, if your school culture doesn’t meet staff needs in other, more fundamental areas.

This blog post explores how schools, and other work places, use perks to help satisfy and reward their employees. We will discuss a variety of perks, yet as ever we must caveat that it, of course, misses out on many other examples of what schools are doing. Please let us know if you’d like to add to the discussion. We also caveat this by saying we support perks and little extras to get us through the day, but we want to look a bit deeper at the effect these can have in different school contexts.

The murky world of corporate perks

Every employee wants to be rewarded and embraces any perks that come their way. In the corporate world, with more cash to splash, employee perks are an obvious method of endearment between worker and company, and many take full advantage of their flexibility and budgets. A glance through Linked In throws up plenty of ‘employee engagement and benefits’ companies that advise and provide ‘solutions’ to businesses who want to offer the best perks to their staff. Without wishing to be cynical, these often appear superficial, a soundbite to put on a job advert when recruiting the best ‘talent’, rather than a serious attempt to empower and support staff for the long term.

We’ve read about law firms who offer free takeaway if you stay until 8pm, and free taxi home if you are grafting past 9pm, followed by some who even offer hotel-style rooms on their premises. These options seem more of a rouse to never leave work, rather than a perk itself! However, many firms are now offering more support for workers with children, providing flexible working hours, nurseries and childcare on site, and even assigning employees a ‘personal agent’ to help organise their lives while they are at work. More traditional options include vouchers for massages or exercise classes, or private healthcare access. The technology sector are particularly good at offering on-site activities to woo their employees, such as games rooms, free restaurants and cafés which often include the beer fridge being unlocked on a Friday, and general day time merriment and ‘creative rooms’.

I can feel the knuckles tightening of the teachers reading this.

Perks in schools

Obviously, the education sector has a few more constraints, both financially and logistically! So where do schools begin with trying to compete with the corporates in offering their staff genuinely rewarding, feel-good perks to stave off the teacher blues?

Flexible working and wellbeing days:

While schools can’t keep closing to give staff days off, there are some out there that offer staff a wellbeing day during the year. A day for you to go and relax, do something you love, or just to sort your life out! Phil Sales (@phil_sales) recently Tweeted a picture of a golden ticket that he gave out to staff in a Wonka wrapper which entitled them to a wellbeing day in the next 12 months, if booked in advance. What a lovely idea! Some schools open later following open evenings. Others, close the school on the first Monday of each December for ‘Christmas Shopping Day’, or for a similar occasion. I’ve seen some wonderful examples of Leadership Teams stepping in recently to provide a breakfast or lunch for the staff, such as Farnham Heath End, whose SLT cooked breakfast for staff to enjoy on the last day of term – well done to Stuart Maginnis and his team.

Picture from @phil_sales Twitter
Stuart Maginnis (@stuartmaginnis) at the far left, and his leadership team, serving breakfast to staff at Farnham Heath End

Gifts and material perks:

And then there are material perks: chocolate, biscuits, wine, and other gifts. These are an admirable attempt to acknowledge staff effort, and provide teachers with a valuable hit of sugar, caffeine, or merely goodwill – not to be underestimated. We’ve all arrived to the staff room or our pigeon hole and felt the warm fuzzy feeling as something sweet and tasty stares back at us, pulling us away from the haze of a 6-period day that culminated in *that* year 9 group. The question is, disregarding the cost for a moment, do they have the desired impact? We think that if a school has a healthy culture in terms of staff wellbeing and recognition, then these extras are a welcome addition to reward hard-working staff. If staff are already unhappy with the conditions of their workplace, then clearly these treats will have little impact.

Leisure opportunities, events and vouchers:

Some schools are lucky enough to have staff (quite often PE teachers, thanks guys!) who agree to run or facilitate sporting or recreational sessions, ranging from yoga, to football, to dancing or singing. These are usually excellent opportunities to blow off some steam, forget about the day, and to get to know your colleagues. We’ve had mixed responses from staff about the after-school activity, though. Some anticipate the sign-up lists with dread, while others feel the peer pressure of taking part when they’d rather use the time to complete work. Vouchers to go to discounted external classes or wellbeing activities are also a common offer, and we are certain that staff enjoy them and benefit from the downtime.

Do perks meet our needs?

In terms of perks, schools seem to be improving and making fairly active steps to reward or recognise staff. But we need to go back to the basic needs of people when we assess the impact of these perks. Let’s consider the needs model of primary, secondary, and tertiary. Linking back to our previous blog on Self Determination Theory, which I urge you to read and investigate further, we can gather that primary needs in a workplace environment could be competence, relatedness and autonomy: these encompass being challenged, supported, feeling a sense achievement, and working with some agency over your roles. Secondary needs might link to the things you need to do your job: the resources, the classroom, the books, etc. And finally, tertiary needs are the luxuries we desire once our primary and secondary needs are met. Ben Gibbs from the Relationships Foundation put this into context when we were discussing workplace perks with him; the chocolate, the extras we enjoy from time to time, serve for very little if our other, more pressing, needs aren’t met. So it’s not so much ‘do away with the perks’, but to make sure other needs are met first.

Concluding thoughts:

1.       The place to start: changing your culture as a school to one where staff are valued and recognised day-to-day through kind words, warm relationships and trust; it’s completely free and has no timetable implications!

2.       Perks are a fantastic way to motivate and recognise hardworking staff. Despite my slightly sceptical tone, perks can be creative, personal, fun, and help build inter-team relationships. But they are not the silver bullet, nor are they the basis or foundation of any wellbeing initiative or culture. They are tertiary.

3.       We are pleased that perks are becoming increasingly linked to giving staff more flexibility over their working lives; whether you have children or not, being offered a little extra to help with managing your time can only be a good thing. 

Thanks for reading.

Sam and Rachel


The Thinking School: a glimpse into how autonomy can empower teaching staff

For the last few weeks, Sam and I have been reading about the workplace landscape in the UK, teacher wellbeing and theories that reflect the basic needs of workers. It’s not all been about the reading though; we’ve been lucky enough to be granted some time away from teaching to visit The Relationships Foundation in Cambridge, and more recently, we had a fascinating and insightful meeting with the some of the Talent team at Ogilvy’s London office, who run a successful programme to support the wellbeing of its employees, named Thrive.

Before escaping the classroom and putting some of our questions to those more experienced than us in the field of wellbeing, we had some uncertainty about how to conceive of a viable model in which a school environment can nurture both staff and students. We began to ask ourselves: is it possible to achieve a harmony between the demands of school curriculum, exam results, workload and facilitating the wellbeing of staff? Is it realistic to create a school culture that isn’t purely focused on the academic progress of the students? And finally, can teaching staff be valued in a way that promotes our autonomy, allows us to feel trusted and supported, and enables our own professional growth?

The answer to all the above is yes. And we’ve seen it in practice through the work of Executive Headteacher and author, Dr Kulvarn Atwal.

Dr Atwal’s book, ‘The Thinking School’, was a fascinating read; we were compelled to visit. So, after a few busy weeks in school, we eagerly seized the opportunity to go during Year 11 Mock Week (anything to escape the monotony of mock marking!) At 9am, on a dreary December morning, we arrived at Kulvarn’s school in Redbridge, London. The weather was dull: incessant rain, grey skies and bitter winds. But the atmosphere inside the school couldn’t have offered a more stark contrast: Kulvarn’s enthusiasm radiated throughout the entire building and the classroom displays put secondary schools’ to shame.

We met with Kulvarn and Sandeep, Associate Headteacher, for an inspiring presentation on how the school develops a culture of empowerment, trust, autonomy, community and continual reflection and improvement. Their philosophy is a powerful one: teachers should be trusted to create a curriculum in collaboration with other teachers, authentically engaging in, and trialling, research methods to facilitate student learning. The result: incredible student progress, staff who feel invested in through their own professional development, and an environment that is permeated by a feeling of trust. Whilst the children are at the centre of everything they’re doing, this isn’t to the detriment of staff wellbeing. It’s refreshing to see. Teachers take ownership over the curriculum and are encouraged to study for Masters Degrees, funded considerably by the school. “What if the teachers take advantage of this generosity and promptly leave after their studies?”, Kulvarn revealed he’s been asked. His response was admirable: “So what? They’ll go on to have an effect on students elsewhere!”

The passion radiates.

Meeting with various staff members throughout our morning at the school allowed us to see Kulvarn’s philosophy in practice. And how insightful it was. Staff were unanimously in agreement that they felt valued and supported, that they felt the leadership, although the school avoids such hierarchical terminology, were empathetic, approachable and have a genuine interest in the professional development of each member of staff.

The ethos of the leadership is fascinating; there is a completely open door policy where teachers are free (and clearly take full advantage) to come into Kulvarn’s office unannounced, propose a new idea and ask his thoughts about how to plan and deliver it; he then briefly touches base with them over the next weeks and months as they are empowered to carry out their idea or project. Having interviewed the teachers at length, the confidence and positivity they have seems rooted in this knowledge that at any point, they are in control of their workload, what they teach, how they teach, and the direction of the school.

This ethos is a game-changer. Kulvarn admirably holds the stance that being consistently monitored results in teachers who stop thinking; he suggests that without autonomy, you leave your brain at home. We are teachers because we enjoy learning and want to be challenged. Kulvarn’s ethos promotes self-development within a supportive environment and the power that this has to unlock potential in teachers is immense.

The students were no different to the staff. Articulate, engaged, reflective: the benefits of a school where teachers are happy are undeniably palpable.

We are so grateful to have been given the opportunity to see the work of Dr Atwal in practice. It leaves us with an overwhelming sense that there is hope for the profession; that school leaders can do more to look after their staff; that our research can facilitate actual progression in the wellbeing of teaching staff through very simple principles: trust, autonomy, collaboration and empathy.

We’re excited about the journey ahead: stay tuned!


Exploring Self Determination Theory (SDT) and meeting the psychological needs of school staff

What do people want? What do they need? We make choices every day that we think will generate happiness. We buy a coffee on the way to work because it provides a sense of gratification, and a perception that the handiwork of the barista, along with the caffeine, will see us through the morning unscathed. We don’t need it, but a desire has been fulfilled and, in turn, our morale may be safe for an hour or two.

But, in teaching, despite a profession-wide addiction to tea and coffee, it takes more than a short burst in the morning to provide for our needs. Of course, many define teaching as a vocation, an active career choice made to give back to society and to find meaning; but those ideals alone aren’t sufficient to meet the needs of those in danger of burnout due to accountability measures, high workload, or a number of other stressors.

A recent visit to the Relationships Foundation in Cambridge was a revelation for us. The think-tank aims to create a ‘better-connected society’ through more relational thinking and, among many other projects, they have experience in working with schools; we met with John Ashcroft, Director of Research, and Ben Gibbs, Head of Programmes.

Rachel and I quizzed them about healthy organizations and staff wellbeing, and they in turn threw back academic research, case studies, and decades of first-hand experience about how staff can be looked after, within and outside the education sector. One thing that became clear is that to champion improved self-efficacy among staff, one must begin by looking at organizational culture.

The first paper to truly grab our attention, recommend by John and Ben, was the work of Ryan and Deci (Ryan and Deci, 2000) and their Self Determination Theory (SDT), followed by many subsequent studies adopting a form of this model. SDT is not a recent phenomenon, or a fad doing the rounds, but perhaps its model hasn’t entered the world of teacher training just yet. It proposes that humans have three basic psychological needs: competence, relatedness and autonomy; in a workplace setting, those must be met for staff to thrive.

Autonomy encompasses the need to experience choice in the way tasks are carried out; relatedness is how workers perceive their relationships and connection with others within the organization, in addition to being part of a group and being supported by leadership; competence involves feeling challenged, accomplishing and performing well, and learning. Numerous studies suggest that these three basic psychological needs have a correlation with employee wellbeing, motivation, and perceptions about contentment at work.

Please check the bibliography for the full papers and links pertaining to SDT; in a bid to avoid a long read, I will now turn my attention to SDT applied to teachers and school settings. I hasten to add, the papers are fantastic reading and I do not do them justice in this short blog post, but rather provide a rudimentary summary of the principles.

The question we are asking now is: how are these needs potentially restricted for school staff, and what could we do to unlock them and help teachers to flourish?

Competence: do accountability measures, e.g. SATS, GCSEs, A-Levels, league tables, OFSTED, mean that staff only feel a sense of competency if their students achieve well in standardised tests? Are school leaders effective at praising their staff for their efforts and commitment, and not just test performance? Does the training and development in schools actually upskill teachers and staff? Do staff have control over, and engagement with, their development? Do teachers feel like they are achieving what they came into the profession to accomplish?

Autonomy: another potential victim of accountability measures; are staff given enough creativity regarding what they teach and how they teach? Are schools giving teachers enough say in curriculum development and delivery? Are teachers encouraged to take part in research and further learning so that they can improve their practice and take control of what they want to develop? Do staff feel they have a voice within the school to be part of change?

Relatedness: In most workplace settings, this would encompass how staff interact with their colleagues. However, teaching has a more unique edge to this factor given that teachers spend most of their day with students. Although relatedness with other staff is important, Klassen et al found that teachers value more their relationships with students, and in turn, students who had good relatedness with their teachers had higher intrinsic motivation (Klassen, et al, 2011) Do schools take seriously the importance of helping teachers build relationships with their students? In terms of staff relatedness, key questions amount to whether or not a culture of exists of sharing, collaborating, and valuing each other as staff, and whether building of relationships between staff is facilitated and promoted. Do leaders support and empathise with their staff at schools?

The purpose of our entire project is to work out how we can improve wellbeing for staff, and the Self Determination Theory has a valuable role to play in how we steer conversations and form ideas. For instance, we are looking at using the three psychological needs as the basis for three sections of a staff questionnaire, which his common practice among those adopting SDT as a way to assess staff contentment and motivation. We are also using competence, autonomy and relatedness as foci of focus groups we are running soon among school staff.

Any teacher can tell you that we want to feel more trusted as a profession and welcome the chance to be given more autonomy to exercise our professional expertise and skills. However, certain aspects of our education system provoke a restriction of independence, and it takes courageous school leaders to break away from established practices in how to run schools to give staff more autonomy. Standardised testing increases pressure on teachers, narrows what they can teach, and reduces time to build relationships with students, which simultaneously impacts perceptions of both relatedness and autonomy (Collie, et al, 2015); meanwhile, the ever-looming Ofsted presents leaders challenges over what they should prioritise, and it rarely seems to be how to empower staff.

Schools, therefore, need to spend more time asking themselves what they define as success. Are the aims of the school built around exam league tables and Ofsted ratings, or alternatively,  thriving staff and students who enjoy their learning environment and are motivated to keep learning? Clearly we need to have a balance; but children can receive a robust and diligent education within an environment that empowers staff needs.

As we continue to explore studies, meet experts, and conduct some primary research within school settings, our aim is to move onto solutions. How can we help school leaders meet the needs of their staff? How can we encourage and empower staff to take a lead with their development? What cultural and organisational shifts need to occur to make teachers feel valued? I’m aware that we are raising plenty of questions and few answers, but each step we take is providing new insights and ideas!

Next week we meet with Dr Kulvarn Atwal, author of The Thinking School, and then head to Ogilvy, one of the world’s largest advertising firms. Both visits will be hugely informative and inspirational and will be detailed in our following blog post.

Thank you for reading.

Sam and Rachel


Collie R, Martin A, Shapka J and Perry N (2015) ‘Teachers’ Psychological Functioning in the Workplace: Exploring the roles of contextual beliefs, Need Satisfaction and Personal Characteristics’. American Psychological Association.

Klassen R, Frenzel A, Perry N (2011) ‘Teachers‘ Relatedness with Students: An Underemphasized Component of Teachers’ Basic Psychological Needs’. American Psychological Association.

Ryan R & Deci E (2000) ‘Self Determination Theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and wellbeing’. American Psychologist.

Recommended links:


“I’m probably not clever enough to write this article…” Imposter Syndrome: why do so many of us feel like frauds?

What do Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou and Meryl Streep all have in common?

Deep down, they all view themselves as imposters, fraudsters, cheats, fakes, phonies. In other words, they all have expressed the psychological phenomenon we now term: Imposter Syndrome.

Einstein commented: “the exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler”

Maya Angelou claimed: “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, “Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”

Meryl Streep says that she can’t imagine why anyone would want to see her acting and never watches back her performances.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is difficult to factually define. But it can be described by a collection of emotions such as self-doubt, fraudulence, inadequacy and the haunting sense of the imminent discovery of failure. Essentially, it’s a sense of “waiting to be uncovered as a fraud”; a chronic feeling of “I’m not good enough and soon everyone is going to find out”.

Often, those who experience Imposter Syndrome state that these feelings persist, despite evidence of success.

Emma Watson speaks on the subject:

“It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved. I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are. It’s weird — sometimes [success] can be incredibly validating, but sometimes it can be incredibly unnerving and throw your balance off a bit, because you’re trying to reconcile how you feel about yourself with how the rest of the world perceives you.” —Rookie, May 2013

Surprisingly, research suggests that around 70% of adults in the UK experience Imposter Syndrome at least once in their lives. So, why is it so common and what can we do within teaching to lessen its prevalence?

In her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, Dr. Valerie Young, draws on years of research surrounding the fraudulent feelings of high-achievers. She categorizes this into 5 subgroups:

  1. The Perfectionist: “I’m never going to be good enough
  2. The Superwoman/man: “Everyone else knows what they’re doing so I better work 3 extra hours a day to make up for it”
  1. The Natural Genius: “I’ve always been told I’m smart but I can’t understand this quick enough: I must be a fraud”
  2. The Soloist: “If I ask anyone for help they’ll know I am a fraud for certain”
  3. The Expert: “Why do people call me an expert? I can never know enough!”

Ultimately, it seems that Imposter Syndrome is a relational feeling; a feeling that one is not good enough in relation to others that surround us.

It’s no wonder then, that in a school, surrounded by experts who are shaping the minds of the future, that Imposter Syndrome is overwhelmingly present in the teaching profession.

Why do teachers feel like imposters?

There seem to be a number of recurring themes that make teachers prone to experiencing Imposter Syndrome. To simplify, I’ve listed the most common below:

  1. Judgement

Whether by OFSTED, observations by line managers or other members of the senior leadership team, or simply by the 32 teenagers sat in front of you, teaching is, without doubt, a performance. And one that invites judgement (wanted or unwanted!).

2. Results

Teaching is a results-driven job. Whether we like to admit it or not, the sleepless nights, exam results nightmares, the sweaty palms on the drive to school, all point towards the crucial fact that the success of the previous academic year feels as though it comes down to a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper handed to you by your head of department.

3. Subject knowledge

The time made available to teachers to develop their subject knowledge is limited after the training or NQT year. Often, battling the fiery attitudes of teenagers and keeping afloat in the workload, means that teachers can feel a sense of inadequacy in their subject knowledge because we aren’t given any time to develop our practice.


What can individuals do to manage this feeling?

Dr Sam Akbar, a Clinical Psychologist, offers three steps to conquering Imposter Syndrome:

Notice it: Notice when the ‘fraudster’ narrative pops up. Notice if you start avoiding challenges because of your mind telling you you are a fraud.

Name it: Say ‘Ah! There’s my imposter story coming out again’.

Nail it: Do what matters to you, even when your mind says you can’t.

Adam M. Persky in Intellectual Self-doubt and How to Get Out of It, offers some solutions that he has gathered from anecdotal encounters with colleagues and professional mentors. Some of these steps include: accentuating the positive character attributes that have led to Imposter Syndrome, avoiding ruminating on mistakes, and visualising success and rewarding yourself accordingly. Finally, he advocates a “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality: accepting that we can’t know everything and having the confidence to keep going, despite feeling uncertain about whether you’re doing the right thing.

What can schools and leaders do?

In previous blogs, we’ve spoken of the Self Determination Theory: a theory that outlines our basic psychological needs. We’ve found this research to be incredibly powerful and to have the potential to substantially aid a teacher’s sense of wellbeing. Within the three aspects of this theory – autonomy, relatedness and trust – it’s possible to tie this in with the prevention of Imposter Syndrome. Schools could consider the following:

  1. Research and CPD:

Enabling the empowerment of teachers through enhancing their subject and general pedagogy knowledge through individual, bespoke research projects, rather than mundane, whole school CPD sessions could be a powerful tool within schools. Facilitating teachers to be able to research, trial and feedback on pedagogy will improve a sense of autonomy and trust. But importantly, this could also offset the feeling of inadequacy associated with Imposter Syndrome.

2. Collaboration:

Give teachers the opportunity to design curriculums and schemes of work in collaboration with other members of their department. This sense of relatedness will instill confidence in the individual members of the department and eradicate a fear of “what are they teaching and are they doing a better job than me?”

3. Open discussion:

Schools can encourage teachers to speak about the failures they have encountered. Discussing hurdles that have been overcome, or are yet to be overcome, can empower other, perhaps more junior teachers, and teach us all that success comes about because of failure and how we respond to it.

Thank you for reading; please do get in touch if you have any personal experiences or solutions to Imposter Syndrome and its effects on teacher well being.

Rachel and Sam

Interesting links:

https://thriveglobal.com/stories/the-best-ways-to-beat-imposter-syndrome/    Dr Sam Akbar, D Clin Psy, Clinical Psychologist

Adam M. Persky, PhDa,b. Intellectual Self-doubt and How to Get Out of It, published in American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 2018; 82 (2) Article 6990.

Dr. Valerie Young, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It

Mindfulness, resilience and self-efficacy: over-used and ineffective stress prevention or the key to a happy, healthy teacher?

Imagine the most calm, resilient, stress-free person you know. No situation can shatter the rationality with which they act; no problem is too challenging or beyond their capabilities; no apparent signs of crippling self-doubt and anxiety interfere in their day-to-day life.

Now imagine putting this person in a school.

Would their resilience, rationality and confidence protect them from the challenges that we face on a daily basis? It’s difficult to say. Certainly, the school environment is a unique place to work: it can be internally competitive without outwardly admitting so; it can be exceedingly hierarchical without obvious personal ambition; but it can also be one of the most prominent causes of stress and anxiety, as well as a refreshing antedote, at times.

Let’s face it: it can be chaos! Many people offer a sympathetic ‘awh’ or a sharp intake of breath when we tell them that we’re teachers. But is it possible to conceive of a way in which personal character traits, innate or self-taught, can mitigate the chaotic, stressful school environment?

In a previous post, we’ve explored the facts around teacher retention and the problems associated with the school environment in how it induces stress. But when reflecting on this, we started to consider whether perhaps certain personality traits like self-efficacy, and techniques, like mindfulness, can mitigate against teacher burnout and promote wellbeing.

Self-efficacy: what is it and why is it relevant to teachers?

Self-efficacy is a concept originally proposed by psychologist Albert Bandura who describes it as a personal consideration of “how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations”. Essentially, how much belief you have in the power to affect situations. Of course, a teacher who believes strongly in their own efficacy will be resilient, able to solve problems, reflective and able to learn from their experiences.

However, without this, a teacher can harbour feelings of self-doubt, anxiety and a sense of being ineffectual. Simply put, self-efficacy is key to a teacher’s sense of wellbeing.

The question now becomes: how on earth, if at all, can we improve our sense of efficacy?!

Mindfulness: could it reduce stress and support self-efficacy?

One of the most prominent terms in the zeitgeist of millennial culture is the concept of mindfulness. This term is used to refer to a state of intentional awareness of the present, without judging the moment in any specific way. Being mindful often means ‘living in the present’ without agonising over the past or worrying about the future. And, to accompany the burgeoning invasion of technology, it’s no wonder that there are many ways in which technology attempts to tap into this movement and offer ways of becoming more mindful. Some of these include meditation apps, such as Calm or Headspace, and podcasts, such as Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s ‘Feel Better Live More’ and Fearne Cotton’s ‘Happy Place’.

The irony that technology, the very thing that induces anxiety for many, can offer an antedote to modern-day stressors is not lost. But personally, I have found these to be helpful, albeit temporarily, in aiding a sense of escapism from the stress of a busy, cold, dark January day in the classroom.

Initially, the research seems promising. The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 1970s by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, used mindfulness techniques to attempt to reduce stress. Overall, it showed a significant reduction in general stress after completion of the stress reduction intervention.

However, the results are a little more damning in the long term. A study published in the Dove Press journal: Psychology Research and Behavior Management aimed to explore whether mindfulness could impact self-efficacy (remember: self-efficacy is the kryptonite of wellbeing). It concludes that mindfulness had some impact on self-efficacy in the short-term but ultimately states that “the mindfulness intervention significantly decreased self-efficacy”.

Is mindfulness a type of tertiary intervention that simply isn’t up to the challenge of tackling deep-rooted personality traits and systematic work-place flaws?


But it’s not black and white; there are some more promising studies. For example, research published in the American Journal of Education (November 2018) investigates teachers’ experience with stress and the mechanisms of change related to developing resilience following a mindfulness-based intervention program, Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE).

Fascinatingly, the study concludes that:

“The results suggest that the amount of stress teachers experience is less important than how they conceptualize their stress. Teachers who developed resilience exercised mindful awareness and nonreactivity coupled with a healthy distress tolerance and sense of efficacy.”

It goes on to state that:

“These results suggest that CARE may cultivate resilience by improving teachers’ awareness, emotional regulation, and collegiality, which, when coupled with healthy distress tolerance and efficacy, operates as a protective factor against burnout.”

As a final point of interest from this study, it offers some suggestions regarding the adaptations that could occur in the way that schools are run, claiming that mindfulness through the CARE program could facilitate a better mindset of efficacy in its employees through shifting its focus in professional development.

We’re veering slightly away from the mindfulness that’s popularised by millennials now. But there is something to be learned here. Could an environment that cultivates self-efficacy, whether or not it can be stimulated through mindfulness, be a solution to teacher burnout?

I want to finish by drawing upon one final study: a survey, named Teacher Self-efficacy, Voice and Leadership, commissioned by Education International Research Institute in February 2012. The purpose of the survey was to enable teachers to express their views about responsibility, leadership and autonomy in schools. It also enabled teachers to comment on the policies that would enhance self-efficacy.  There were 175 participants from across the world.

The results make for an interesting read. Words that come up again and again: collaboration, influence, transferring knowledge, coaching and mentoring, relationships, community.

The conclusion: a sense of collective self-efficacy empowers teaching staff. The more a group of people nurture and develop their professional skills together, the more likely they are to feel more resilient, calm and confident. That person you imagined at the beginning? That can be a teacher, after all!

So, what can schools be doing to create collective self-efficacy and, as a result, reduce the likelihood of burnout?

  1. Allow staff the opportunity to be continually learning; development of professional knowledge enables a sense of self-efficacy.
  2. Offer time for collaboration in the development of the curriculum; teachers who work together feel collectively empowered.
  3. Integrate opportunities for mindfulness where possible: whether a five minute pause during a two hour CPD for meditation, or a more established mindfulness program; establish a sense of being present in an environment that is continually reflecting on past mistakes and looking towards future exams.
  4. Allow opportunities for mentoring and coaching beyond the Trainee and NQT level; a more relational school is a more resilient and confident one.
  5. Encourage discussion: a community of teachers who feel that they are working towards a common purpose is a powerful tool to mitigate the radically isolating feeling of stress and anxiety.

Thank you for reading and continuing to follow us in our endeavour to explore teacher wellbeing.

Rachel and Sam

Interesting links and cited literature:

CARE: https://createforeducation.org/

‘A systematic review of the relationship between self-efficacy and burnout in teachers’, Carol G. Brown

DovePress, ‘Mindfulness and self-efficacy in pain perception, stress and academic performance. The influence of mindfulness on cognitive processes’

‘Stress and Release: Case Studies of Teacher Resilience Following a Mindfulness-Based Intervention’, American Journal of Education, November 2018


Reviewing the literature about the current landscape for education professionals: bleak and alarming or reassuring and affirming?

It probably doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that the former rings true for the literature that assesses teacher wellbeing in the UK; but what does this mean for our project?

After determining that we had tapped into a potentially seismic problem within the education sector, Sam and I decided that we needed to gain a deeper insight into the current landcape regarding stress and wellbeing for teachers. As expected, the literature that we’ve reviewed so far has raised more questions than it has provided answers. Why are the numbers recording teacher stress levels rising with each year? What is the solution for the disconcerting levels of teacher retention? What effective strategies are schools using to promote and prioritise the wellbeing of their staff? And, perhaps most worryingly, why are more teachers reporting an increase in the relation between their profession and mental health problems?

It has become very apparent that there is enormous scope for more research into this trend. Reviewing the recent data surrounding teacher wellbeing has provided us with fuel to delve further into this problem and affirmed our reasoning for wanting to try and understand, interpret and intervene where possible.

To begin with, we reviewed the literature that reports on stress and wellbeing for the UK workforce in general: still pretty bleak stuff!

The 2019 Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) report on stress and anxiety at work seeks to explore whether the aforementioned have personal or cultural causes. It reports that 66% of employees have felt stressed or anxious about work in the last 12 months. What is really insightful about this statistic is that it suggests that 76% of those employees are under 35: why do under 35’s feel more stressed and anxious at work? Bear with me, there are still plenty of questions! ACAS also reported that only 8% of employees said their workplace effectively prevented them from feeling stressed: again, what’s going fundamentally wrong in the workplace and its provision for employee wellbeing? Teaching staff are undoubtedly the best resource that a school has, so we are in for a rough ride if these figures are paralleled in the education sector (spolier alert: you can probably guess how the research pans out!).

Most teachers, in our experience, indicate that workload is a significant cause of their stress. But what about other sectors? The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey (2019) cites the top three causes of stress to be as follows: 62% of those surveyed attribute stress to workload, 43% to management style, and relationships at work stands at 30%. Evidently, intervention designed to minimise stress would have to tackle many facets of a corporation’s organisational structure.

Now, where does this leave teachers: rising majestically above the wider UK workforce, or painfully incapacitated by stress and anxiety? If you’ve ever seen a teacher on day one of October half term, just six or seven weeks into the academic year, you’ll know the answer… Bed-bound, crippled by the flu, drowning in a pile of marking that wasn’t finished during the hectic final week: teacher burnout, or stress-induced illness, is glaringly obvious from an anecdotal perspective. And the research supports this.

The 2019 Teacher Wellbeing Index states that 72% of all education professionals would describe themselves as stressed: in fact, almost all factors reported that contribute to a decline in teacher wellbeing have risen from 2017 to 2019. Staggeringly, the report reveals that 78% of all education professionals experience negative behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to their work; this is compounded by the fact that a third of staff surveyed in the index reported that stress has directly led to mental health problems – the highest the index has recorded. Workload is cited as a major contributing factor; no doubt, seeing as the index found that 33% of teachers work over 51 hours a week. In comparison to the wider UK landscape, it’s a depressing outlook.

If you think back to that bleak image of the burnt out teacher in October half term, the anecdote is reinforced by one interesting fact that the Teacher Wellbeing Index finds: 49% of surveyed teachers admit to experiencing presenteeism, the notion of going to work, despite not being well enough.

Is it realistic to have an impressive record of attendence, with many teachers boasting a five year streak of no sick leave? Of course not. But the guilt of imposing cover on other members of an over-worked department, aided by the thought of letting the students down, leads many teachers to go into work when they are otherwise unfit to.

The final point of interest for the Index is the statistic that 49% of teachers considered that their workplace culture had a negative effect on their wellbeing. Whilst this is a topic for another post, the evidence points plainly towards a need for substantial change to the culture and organisational structures in schools.

The question now becomes this: why do teachers and other education professionals suffer with stress, in context, more than the average worker in the UK? Why do schools often create an environment that’s toxic to the wellbeing of its staff? Why isn’t a couple of weeks off every now and then, where we can jet to exotic locations for the price of a small car, enough to keep us sweet?

In conducting the review of this literature, we were left with one overwhelming thought: there simply hasn’t been enough research into this area. For example, The Cochrane Collaboration conducted research into organisational interventions for improving wellbeing and reducing work-related stress in teachers. It was an ambitious and promising task, with 4 studies and 2199 teachers taking part. These studies evaluated three types of intervention: changing teachers’ tasks by redesigning the work, adapting timetables and the work environment; school-wide coaching support networks; and performance-based bonus pay and promotion opportunities, accompanied by mentoring structures. At last! A practical study with scope to explore the impact of varied methods of reducing stress in schools. Yet the conclusions were undeniably disappointing. All studies saw either no considerable effect or a very small reduction in work-related stress. The conclusion drawn? Many results were not reported, schools dropped out and thus not enough participants meant that the quality of evidence was low.

And therein we find a significant, but not insurmountable, challenge. Stress levels are increasing, teachers are suffering in their work environment, the evidence is plain in terms of the systemic change needed. Yet the questions remain. The problems persist. And not enough is being done to make effective change.

Tell us your experiences; contributions are always welcome!

Rachel and Sam


Wakeling A, (2019). ACAS Workplace Policy, ‘Stress or Anxiety at work: personal or cultural?’

Education Support, (2019). Teacher Wellbeing Index

Naghieh AMontgomery PBonell CPThompson MAber JL, (2015). The Cochrane Collaboration, ‘Organisational interventions for improving wellbeing and reducing work-related stress in teachers’

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, (2019). Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey

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