Mental Health & Wellbeing Campaign
Motions to Conference Cymru on the growing mental health crisis in Wales’s education sector noted that funding issues, excessive workload, testing, scrutiny, and accountability were significant factors in the increasing number of members struggling to cope and developing mental health problems.
In July 2021, NEU Cymru conducted a mental health and wellbeing survey of education sector workers across Wales. The survey attracted over 1600 responses from workers across all job roles in schools, colleges, and universities and highlighted the strength of feeling amongst our education sector workforce.
- Excessive workload continues to be the leading cause of workplace stress and mental health issues;
- There is a significant lack of support measures in place for workers experiencing poor mental health;
- Negative workplace cultures surrounding mental health mean that only a small percentage of individuals access help or support for mental health problems;
Absences due to mental health issues are inevitably going to have an impact on the continuity of teaching in schools and ultimately on standards.
Those education professionals who have been signed off with mental health issues don’t want to be away from work. For many it is incredibly difficult to return to the role due to
- a loss of confidence;
- fear of a reprisal (of the pressures that caused them to become ill in the first instance);
- a concern for the educational wellbeing of their pupils and
- the worry of slipping behind the curve of new initiatives and practices.
Indeed, for a significant minority of individuals sickness absence is the first stage to the end of their careers as they never return to education.
Covid-19 Global Pandemic
The Covid-19 global pandemic has exacerbated, what was already, a growing problem of poor mental health across the population. Since the pandemic hit in March 2020, the risk factors for poor mental health (including – financial insecurity, unemployment, fear) increased, while protective factors (such as – social connection, employment and educational engagement, access to physical exercise, daily routine, and access to health services) – decreased.
Freedom of Information
Following recent Freedom of Information requests (FOIs) to Local Authorities in Wales regarding sickness absence in education workers, there were a total of 144,900 days lost to poor mental health in 2020-2021. What this means in real terms is that every 90 minutes in Wales a teacher is forced to take sick leave due to stress related poor mental health.
Whole School Approach
In March 2021, Welsh Government issued the framework on embedding a whole-school approach (WSA) to emotional and mental well-being. The Framework is intended to support education settings in reviewing their own well-being landscape and in developing plans to address their weaknesses and build on their strengths. It is meant to support and complement the new national Curriculum for Wales and in particular the Health and Well-being Area of Learning and Experience.
Tackling the core issues and causes of mental health problems is vital in battling the crisis. Excessive workload, workplace culture, stigma, and pupil behaviour are key areas which need to be addressed if we are to stem the flow of workers leaving the sector.
The development of a holistic and whole organisation approach to improving wellbeing is crucial. Wellbeing teams, representative of all staff and stakeholders, should be set up in every education setting across Wales. NEU Cymru’s WULF (Wales Union Learning Fund) project team are currently developing a mental health and wellbeing toolkit (to be launched in September 2022) to support the wellbeing teams in their efforts to improve wellbeing.
NEU Cymru will lobby Welsh Government to legislate that Local Authorities are required to undertake Stress Risk Assessments in every education workplace where there is significant absence due to poor mental health. In addition, we will be asking for the introduction of a mental health charter, funding for training and funding to create and develop wellbeing teams.
How You Can Help
- Talk to parents, colleagues, governors, leaders, managers and your union about getting involved.
- Join and/or create and support the workplace wellbeing team.
- Put mental health and wellbeing on the agenda for every meeting.
- Get in touch with the Wales Union Learning Fund team – email@example.com – to find out how we can help you with information, training and resources.
- Get involved in activities and discussions aimed at raising awareness of and improving mental health and wellbeing in your school.
- Like and follow NEU Cymru and the NEU Cymru WULF project on Facebook and on Twitter – share our posts. This will help raise awareness of the crisis and encourage people to get involved.
If you do ONE thing from here – talk to ONE person, share ONE social media post – you will be helping to raise awareness of the crisis and show your support for making changes that will support the wellbeing of education workers and students / pupils alike.
T : 029 2049 1818