If not now, then when? | Education Support
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Faye McGuinness - new Director of Programmes

If not now, then when?

20th January 2021

Whilst progress has been made to support the mental health and wellbeing of education staff, there are many difficult challenges ahead and now is the time to face them, says our new Director of Programmes Faye McGuinness. 

It’s been almost six years since I started working in the field of workplace mental health and I’m very excited to be bringing my experience to Education Support. As I reflect back over those six years working for the mental health charity Mind, I can confidently say that in many workplaces, a change is occurring.

The change I see in many organisations, is a renewed focus on the ‘health’ element of health and safety. Many leaders are genuinely, and compassionately asking their teams ‘how are you?’. The global pandemic has also caused many employers to centre employee mental health in conversations about the workplace.

While I am optimistic about the positive progress being made, I often wonder whether progress is quick enough and whether enough organisations are focussing on the real systemic drivers of poor mental health in the workplace – many of which existed long before the Coronavirus pandemic. I often feel that the answer, sadly, is no.

Whilst there is no doubt that the pandemic has forced employers to rethink how work is designed and carried out, for many, an entrenched culture of poor working practices means that they continue to focus on the ‘quick wins’ when it comes to supporting employee mental health and wellbeing.

One of the sectors where this is evident is education. The Teacher Wellbeing Index 2020, published by Education Support, reports that the wellbeing of UK education professionals is consistently lower than the general population.

It reports that educators continue to endure long working hours, that organisational culture has a negative effect on their mental health and wellbeing and that they have a lack of access to supervision as a safe space to discuss issues.

In addition to this, 52% of all education professionals say they have considered leaving the sector over the past two years due to pressures on their mental health and wellbeing, citing volume of workload, the need for a better work/life balance and unreasonable demands from managers as their top reasons.

Before the Coronavirus hit, the annual cost of poor mental health per employee in the education sector was between £1,203-£1,5851, so there is no longer a question about whether supporting educator mental health and wellbeing is the right thing to do – the sector simply cannot afford not to.

And whilst I appreciate none of the above challenges are quick to solve, they are consistent with what educators have shared with the charity over the past three years as part of the wellbeing index. So the answer to the earlier question remains the same: ‘no, progress isn’t being made quickly enough.’

Now more than ever, this needs to change and I am hopeful that in my new position as Director of Programmes at Education Support, I can build on the excellent work that the charity is doing and play my part in driving this forward. As I embark on this new role throughout 2021, my vision is to:

  • Deliver new evidence-based services to support the mental health and wellbeing of individuals working in education. This has been a challenging year for everyone in the sector and we aim to grow to meet the increased need for support. We will only deliver services and programmes that are driven by need and are shown to have a positive impact on the education workforce.
  • Increase collaboration with teachers and education staff. Co-production with educators is a key theme in all of the services and programmes we develop. The voices of those working in the sector, and lived experience of educators with mental health problems, will be a vital component of everything we do. 
  • Support education employers to deliver better workplace cultures, so staff can thrive. This will include developing information, support, advice and services that help them develop systematic approaches to providing better employee mental health support.
  • Advocate for improvement at a workplace at policy level. I look forward to working with my colleagues and wider education sector stakeholders to ensure our specialist research on teacher and educator wellbeing is able to influence the way both government and policy and workplace cultures are designed.  
  • Work with other mental health charities to pool knowledge, experience and resources. Educators will benefit from receiving the best possible support for their mental health and wellbeing from a trusted network of experts. Due to its deep understanding of teachers and the challenges they face, Education Support has an important role to play in the wider landscape of mental health organisations, and I look forward to helping the charity make the most of this opportunity.

There is no doubt that we have a big challenge ahead. The 2020 Teacher Wellbeing Index results speak for themselves. But I am optimistic that with the right focus, enough investment, and a commitment from the sector to embed the recommendations from the 2020 index, that change can occur across the education sector.

I am excited to take on this challenge because another question I find myself asking is… if not now, then when?