Mental health factored into performance management

Mental health factored into performance management

 Improved mental health support for teachers could become a central element of school performance management strategies, as new research underlines the damage caused to education by teachers’ highly stressful working conditions.

HR professionals have predicted that discussions regarding mental wellness and wellbeing are set to become increasingly common during employee performance check-ups across all industries in general, as societal awareness and acceptance of mental health issues increases.

Mental health is a significant issue across the workforce, with nearly 20% of workers affected by some form of mental health condition.

Problems regarding employee mental health support are particularly acute in schools however , with teachers’ high-pressure working environment, heavy workloads and long working hours leading to high levels of stress, anxiety and depression across the profession.

A 2017 survey conducted by the Education Support Partnership found that 75% of all education staff in the UK had faced physical or mental health issues because of their work, with 53% having considered leaving as a result.

Of those surveyed, nearly a fifth (19%) said that work-related stress had caused them to have panic attacks, while more than half (56%) had experienced insomnia and difficulty sleeping due to school stress.

Beyond causing harm to individual workers’ wellbeing, a working environment which is not conducive to good mental health also inevitably has a severe impact on teacher performance and productivity. 

Some 41% of UK teachers say that work stress has impaired their ability to concentrate, whilst over a quarter (28%) have had to take time off work.

Of those who did take time off work to recover from work-related mental health problems, the majority were absent from work for more than a month as a result.

Whilst teachers cite workload and work-life balance as the key professional causes of harm to their mental health, industry leaders have specifically faulted poor school management practices for failing staff.

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, says: “The time has come to end the culture of the “anything goes” style of management where any adverse impact on teachers is regarded as collateral damage.”

He adds that “too many employers are failing to exercise their duty of care for the health and welfare of their employees and are presiding over mental and physical burnout.”

As well as having a positive impact on staff and pupils, improved wellbeing support can improve teacher performance and job satisfaction, in turn reducing staff turnover and absence from work whilst increasing productivity and promoting staff engagement.

To bolster mental health support at work and boost teacher job satisfaction, performance, retention, and wellbeing, school leaders will have to reconsider their overall approach to performance management in order to implement more supportive strategies.
Schools advised to make teachers’ mental health a priority

Improving teacher mental health support will require making mental health a priority in performance management, refocusing manager-teacher relationships to factor teachers’ mental health into discussions of performance and progress.

By reframing teacher-manager relations, schools can help to remove workplace stigma around discussing mental health — a key challenge in tackling professional issues related to staff’s mental wellbeing.

Studies show that a large number of workers are still hesitant to discuss mental health problems in the workplace, with many citing fear of judgement, losing out on professional opportunities and fear of discrimination for this reluctance. 

To ease these concerns, school leaders must implement policies to introduce open, non-judgemental discussions of mental health into routine professional activities such as teacher-manager meetings.

This approach not only builds trust and ties between employees and management, but also encourages teachers to be honest and helps management to provide support more quickly, leaving staff feeling better supported and more valued.

It is advisable that mental health should not just be addressed as a stand-alone issue, but also considered in broader discussions regarding staff performance and progress.

For example, performance appraisals should aim to assess how work stress is impacting an individual’s performance and how this impact could be alleviated — perhaps with reduction of non-essential job duties or additional support.

By taking this approach, schools will be able to both improve and better understand the professional wellbeing of their teachers.

In terms of setting performance goals, rather than focusing on big, overarching annual goals, managers should set smaller, concrete objectives for staff in their appraisals, ensuring that teachers feel their goals are manageable and know where to seek support if they run into difficulty.

Aside from offering mental health specific support, schools can also support teachers’ wellbeing by providing sufficient continuing professional development opportunities for staff — with CPD support shown to increase teacher wellbeing and job satisfaction at all levels.

Results-driven management must be reformed, says research

In addition to altering teacher-manager relationships, a more balanced, mental-health focused approach to performance management will also likely mean moving away from the results-driven mindset currently prevalent in schools.

The intensely competitive, high-pressure emphasis on results in schools is evidenced through the use of strategies like linking teacher bonuses to pupil outcomes.

This approach not only impacts teachers’ stress levels but has also been shown to not be effective, ultimately only ever achieving the aim of improved academic results at heavy costs to staff and student wellbeing.

According to a recent study conducted by educational and psychological experts, the results-driven mindset in UK schools is leading to overly burdened teacher workloads and poorer quality teaching, as focus on paperwork and data collection detracts from lesson preparation and broader learning. 

Teachers interviewed for the study reported feeling that not only their own mental health and performance, but also students’ education, was suffering due to an excessive emphasis on results.

One teacher reported feeling that the results culture meant: “conforming to syllabus and rigour of that syllabus rather than responding to the children,” whilst others reported feeling disillusionment with their role and losing self-esteem due to “impossible” outcome expectations.

According to psychologist Gerry Leavey, results-focused “tension is often internalised and impacts on teachers’ identity,” with teachers having to weigh “taking care of themselves and the non-academic needs of pupils against management duties and targets.”

The Ulster University researcher adds: “Too often, this leads to stress and mental health problems.” 

To remedy this, researcher Dr Barbara Skinner says school leaders must seek to reform their attitudes towards results, advising that the introduction of any “rigidly prescribed organisational and management structures” in schools “should be weighed against their impacts on professional identity and personal well-being.”

Improving Performance Management

Educate specialises in helping making performance management easier, faster and more effective.

 Educate supports teachers, school leaders, governors and education managers to develop and implement best practice staff performance management systems that deliver improved learning.

 To learn more on how Educate can help your school improve its performance management practices please email Carol French on carolfrench@educate.co.uk  or call 020 3411 1080.



Support for teachers central to improving schools

The government has pledged to provide more support for teachers, as measures to aid those in the early stages of their career form a central focus of new policies to boost teacher performance and improve recruitment and retention rates within the profession.

In January, government officials announced an “ambitious” new strategy for the teaching profession,with an additional £130m a year to be put towards providing a two-year support package for new teachers under the newly created Early Career Framework

Education Secretary Damian Hinds says that his department’s new approach is based on a “commit[tment] to supporting teachers – particularly those at the start of their career – to focus on what actually matters, the pupils in their classrooms.”

As well as a longer period of initial support, teachers have also been promised improved access to mentoring, a better provision of professional development opportunities and a reduced workload – with less emphasis on non-teaching tasks.

The Department for Education has also outlined aims to make part-time working easier and take a simpler approach to recruitment, in order to encourage strong candidates from all backgrounds to apply.

Whilst some concerns have been raised regarding the altering of recruitment strategy — withNASBTT leaders saying that undue pressure has been placed on training providers to accept lower quality applicants — the news of a renewed commitment to providing better support for teachers has been overwhelmingly welcomed by the education sector.

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton has noted that plans for an early career framework have “the potential to be a game-changer”, whilst NAHT chief Paul Whiteman similarly projected that the framework could “transform the reality of teaching in England”.

The strength of response to the framework underlines the centrality of good teacher support to school performance and pupil outcomes. 

From a management perspective, providing adequate professional support to teachers is one of the most significant factors in determining a teacher’s performance.

In order to get the most out of teachers at the beginning of their career and beyond, school leaders should seek to implement management policies that support their teachers at all stages – nurturing talent, offering flexibility and providing a clear path for professional development.

Improving accountability practices

Accountability practices in education are one area of performance management often criticised for undermining teachers, with experts warning that teaching suffers from the “audit culture” of today.

The emphasis of the current school accountability system on data and inspections has been linked by research to negative effects on teacher performance and job satisfaction, with some feeling that the overly numerical and punitive approach is unfair on teachers and undermines good teaching.

New policies have made some progress towards recognising that a less stringent, punitive approach to accountability is necessary to enhance teacher performance, with plans to simplify the accountability system and remove floor and coasting standards from Ofsted inspections announced this year. 

The education secretary meanwhile has voiced concern that teachers are in some cases “spending more than half their time on non-teaching tasks” as a result of the administrative burdens of collecting data and accounting for pupil outcomes – to the detriment of their performance.

To ensure that accountability strategy is as supportive of teachers as possible, schools should ensure that their internal policies do not overly emphasise data-collection or numerical outcomes where possible. 

Individual teacher performance objectives and assessment criteria should not rely solely on numerical outcomes, as this can negatively skew both the teaching of a teacher and the accuracy of their performance evaluation, causing damage to both pupil outcomes and employee job satisfaction.

Instead, assessment strategy should centre around building strong relationships between teachers and managers, instilling self-confidence in teachers and providing a culture where they are able to voice problems, access managerial support and work together with managers on solutions.

Any changes to existing assessment and accountability criteria should be agreed by both managers and teachers as far as possible. 

Allowing teachers to give input on how they are held to account will help to ensure that the benefits of implementing new accountability measures are properly weighed against their impact on teacher workload, whilst also promoting a shared vision of performance aims to improve teacher motivation and job satisfaction.

In this way, a more collaborative, less punitive approach to accountability will enable teachers to perform their best and take initiative, while enabling them to approach management with challenges if they arise. 

As Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT notes, a less burdensome secondary accountability system would benefit school leaders in the same way, “free[ing] school leaders to concentrate on what matters most, and that’s delivering for pupils.”

Mentoring and flexible working support

In addition to avoiding punitive policy and lessening the administrative burden on teachers, schools can see significant performance benefits from directly improving their support provisions for teachers.

Commenting on the Early Career Framework, Geoff Barton of the Association of School and College Leaders notes: 

“Providing teachers with support and development during the first few years of their career and helping them to flourish in the classroom […] can help to raise the status of teaching to where it deserves to be: as a life-enhancing vocation.”

In terms of support, mentoring schemes for example can not only improve new teacher performance but also provide opportunities for new and experienced staff alike, offering established teachers CPD opportunities via the chance to train in mentoring their colleagues.

For new staff, mentoring provides insightful and challenging feedback from colleagues who have been in their position, promoting a trusting and communicative working environment which in turn can build infrastructure for wider school performance initiatives.

To harness this collaborative potential, schools should aim to assign a dedicated mentoring lead if possible to oversee mentoring strategy. In addition to specific training for mentors, leads could also provide basic guidance on how to counsel colleagues to all staff, so as to create a network of support and collaborative solution-seeking across the school.

Another way that schools can create a supportive environment for their staff is by offering flexible working options.

Flexible working conditions and job share opportunities have both proven successful in schools, with NASUWT leaders asserting that the promotion of flexible teaching “makes a positive contribution to the workplace.”

The Department for Education acknowledges evidence that providing flexible working options can help schools “to get the very best out of their teachers”, stating in guidance:

“[Flexible working] improves employees’ work-life balance and well-being, helps to attract and retain staff, particularly those with caring responsibilities, increases productivity and

reduces costs.”

Schools are advised to be open-minded when considering flexible roles and consider cases on an individual basis. 

For recruitment purposes, flexible working can widen the pool of highly qualified, available candidates, whilst for retention, the practice can be offered to defer the retirement of experienced teachers and help teachers return to work more quickly after parental leave, easing the impact of staff transition periods on pupils in both cases. 

Accommodating teachers in job-share roles is set to become easier for schools, with the government having announced plans to introduce a new match-making service for teachers seeking a job-share.

Improving Performance Management

Educate specialises in helping making performance management easier, faster and more effective.Educate supports teachers, school leaders, governors and education managers to develop and implement best practice staff performance management systems that deliver improved learning.

To learn more on how Educate can help your school improve its performance management practices please email Carol French on carolfrench@educate.co.uk  or call 020 3411 1080.