Staff wellbeing in FE: In conversation with: Nick Juba CEO Greater Brighton Metropolitan College | Education Support
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Nick Juba - Greater Brighton Metropolitan College  - staff wellbeing in further education

Staff wellbeing in FE: In conversation with: Nick Juba CEO Greater Brighton Metropolitan College

In the first of our ‘in conversation’ videos, Education Support’s CEO Sinéad Mc Brearty speaks with Nick Juba, CEO of Greater Brighton Metropolitan College about his perspective on staff wellbeing issues in further education.

Below is a summary of the interview with video timings for each section:

What is affecting the wellbeing and mental health of further education staff? (02:35)

Colleges are about people, and how people feel about their work and their wellbeing is a fundamental issue. 

In the further education sector staff take on a complex role in having a deep understanding of their professional / vocational context and combining this with engaging students in teaching and learning of that subject matter.  Other issues include:

  • Workload (assessment, marking, providing enough face to face engagement)
  • The status of working in the college sector; colleges play a critical role in our communities but are often less understood when compared with schools and universities
  • The level of funding available to the sector is also behind schools and universities and the pressure and stress of the amount staff are required to do with the amount available is difficult for both teaching and support staff

What is impact of remote teaching on staff? (07:51)

Greater Brighton Metropolitan College had a good starting point as we moved to remote working during lockdown, as it had invested in technology.  This made the transition easier, however in a subsequent staff survey a number of challenges were raised:

  • Logistical issues with technology (i.e. access to internet)
  • Balancing having caring responsibilities with working from home
  • Supporting students with complex needs and the impact of feeling responsible for working with students remotely
  • Missing social interaction with colleagues

Are some staff groups more challenged by remote working than others? (14:03)

All staff across the entire College are facing challenges, whilst there are some common themes and some slightly different issues for different groups of staff, none are more profound or difficult than others.  Overall, the response from staff has been thoughtful, creative and adaptable.

  • The College has had to furlough some staff and there are concerns for those staff and a real desire for them to know they are missed and cared about
  • Teaching staff are facing particular issues with engaging some students in learning
  • Pastoral support staff have challenges around delivering additional support to students remotely, particularly where there are safeguarding concerns
  • Managers and leaders have had to adapt to leading their teams remotely, maintaining open communication and providing practical support

Another aspect is understanding boundary issues, both in the sense of establishing a new work life balance working from home, but also for teaching staff with their students.

What will the long-term impact be on staff? (24:09)

It is important to acknowledge that we do not yet understand what the longer term impact on staff will be. 

Establishing realistic expectations amongst staff is a key factor, people are working very hard to deliver as much as possible at the moment, but there is a need to be clear that how much can be achieved in the current climate.  The sense of duty and commitment being shown is fantastic but there is a risk of burnout and people need to try not to be too tough on themselves.

What are the issues around transitioning out of lockdown? (28:09)

There is a high level of anxiety about the implications of lockdown being lifted, what this means for individuals, what safety measures there will be, what the arrangements for enabling social distancing will be – these will all be important to address.

Doing something to allow people to re-engage socially is seen as being important, a BBQ or coffee mornings, so that there isn’t that sense of ‘right we are back let’s just get on with it’.

Another theme that comes up a lot is the question of what working practices will look like in the future, and it is important to think about harnessing the positive things that have come from lockdown, as well as stopping the less helpful practices.  It should be incumbent on leaders to start conversations about how things might be one the restrictions are lifted.

What mental health and wellbeing support is available to staff? (32:41)

This will differ between institutions, although staff wellbeing will be a key issue for all leaders in the sector.  From a GB Met perspective, the following sources of support are in place:

  • An Employee Assistance Programme giving staff access to counselling, signposting and legal advice
  • A comprehensive Occupational Health programme
  • Sources of in-house information, advice and guidance, such as dedicated pages of the staff portal
  • A sophisticated CPD programme which has been updated in response to the coronavirus to support remote working practices
  • Informal sources of support such as staff networks

The support available to all education staff via Education Support’s free 24/7 helpline, as well as its financial grants service was also noted.

How can leaders best support staff?  (37.58)

  • Listening to how staff are feeling and how their wellbeing is being affected, making sure this is done regularly and building an evidence base
  • Acting on it!
  • Making sure that practical arrangements, such as ensuring staff have the necessary kit to do their job as easily as possible, are in place.

What changes in policy and practice would you like to see? (41.21)

There is recognition that things will not go back to exactly the way they were, and there are positives to take from this.  Mental health and wellbeing has been de-politicised and is being talked about in a much more sophisticated way, and with much less stigma attached.  It is hoped that this sort of dialogue will inform how we think about workplace culture, how we manage expectations and work together, in a much more concrete way in the future, putting mental health on the same footing as physical health.

How we can help 

Teachers and education staff, in schools, colleges and universities, who are feeling stressed or anxious during these uncertain times can get confidential emotional support from our free and confidential helpline: 08000 562561.

What can you do?

If you’re in a position to help others in these extraordinary times, please consider making a donation so that we can continue to answer the increasing number of desperate calls and grants applications we are receiving. Thank you so much. 

Another expectation is that the current crisis will be shining a light on the creativity and professionalism of all those working in education, and that the issue around the status, especially of those working in further education, will be brought into ba