Psychology can help improve wellbeing of school staff, research reveals

Release time: 2024-07-07 09:22

Psychology can help improve wellbeing of school staff, research reveals

A coaching initiative was at the heart of an education programme which led to a significant boost in staff wellbeing and the overall performance of a struggling secondary school, a study shows.

A whole-school staff talent development programme, in which one-to-one coaching sessions led by a psychologist were pivotal, saw staff absence levels at Milford Haven school in Wales fall by nearly 40 per cent over three years, from 566 days to 347 days a year.

Ninety-five per cent of school staff took part in the voluntary programme between 2019-2021, the research, which was presented at the BPS Division of Occupational Psychology 2024 annual conference, reveals.

Study author Dr Chintha Dissanayake said such a whole school coaching approach was 'novel', as most interventions typically focus on students, teachers, or school leaders, and not across all staff sectors from headteacher to caretaker. 

"It allowed staff to tap into their abilities and strengths, which were not necessarily being used in their day-to-day activities, as well as plan for what they wanted in the long term.

"Staff felt more engaged and confident; they knew more and felt focused on what they were doing."

She added:

"One-to-one confidential coaching was a key part of the programme and helped staff focus on their aspirations and how they can be achieved, be it within or outside of the school context. Our work with schools really shows the value psychology can bring to communities."

The programme, which also included surveys and workshops, led to wider school improvements by focusing on team as well as individual resilience, and by fostering an inclusive and supportive learning environment for all.

Pressures in all at-risk areas identified such as workload, job security and job conditions were alleviated and in 2021 the school was removed from the ESTYN (school inspection body for Wales) register of schools 'in need of significant improvement', on which it had been placed in 2018.

In addition, performance at both GCSE-level and in sixth form revealed an overall rising trend in student achievement, with 2023 GCSE results being described as 'an astounding success'.

A wellbeing survey, undertaken earlier this year to assess whether progress is being maintained, shows the programme is still having a positive impact. The wellbeing measures for the school remain above the 2019 baseline set at the start of the programme, reflecting its ongoing effectiveness. 

However, Dr Dissanayake said at least a third of the staff are now new and had not experienced the personal development elements of the programme. 

For its benefits to be maintained over time, there was a need to extend support to new staff to help them "to boost their personal resilience, and to discuss ways of managing their own wellbeing and harnessing their talents.

"Teaching is a hard place to be in and studies show the mental health of school staff in the UK is in decline. 

"But if we can create a learning environment which has wellbeing at its heart, we can help teachers and other school staff to draw on their strengths to cope with the challenges they face."

The study has been published in the June issue of the Coaching Psychologist.