College leaders to benefit from free wellbeing sessions

Principals and deputies will become eligible for peer support and counselling

Principals and deputies will become eligible for peer support and counselling

A free wellbeing support service is being opened to college principals and their deputies amid low take-up among school headteachers.

Education Support was contracted in November 2021 to support 2,000 school headteachers by March this year through six one-hour, free peer support sessions, or one to-one support or counselling.

The £760,000 programme has been extended by a year after only reaching about half of its target in schools.

From April, college principals, their deputies and senior leaders reporting to the principal will also become eligible.

Faye McGuinness, the programme’s director, said a pilot of its professional support service with college leaders showed it was “making a difference”, adding: “We are really happy that it’s been introduced to college leaders.”

A 2021 Further Education Trust for Leadership study found that a “high proportion” of principals experienced stress on a “frequent basis”, with 45 per cent surveyed experiencing distress three to five times per week. A further 10 per cent said this was over five times a week.

Jen Hope, the Association of College’s mental health lead, said she was “delighted”
to hear of Education Support’s contract extension.

“Further education staff already benefit from accessing Education Support’s services
for direct emotional support via their helpline and financial assistance via their grants service. The they will now also be able to benefit from professional supervision
which is very welcome,” she said.

Hope added that the AoC is currently delivering a mental health and wellbeing programme with Education Support and other partners on behalf of the Education and Training Foundation, to “provide leaders and practitioners space to reflect on their own mental health and consider how their approach to developing self-awareness and prioritising self-care impacts others”.

A “deep dive” by Education Support into the low school take-up found many heads
felt they “simply don’t have the time and capacity to do it”, Faye McGuinness, the
programme’s director, said.

But many might also believe that their mental health and wellbeing “doesn’t matter as much as everybody else’s… if we want people to take action we really need to change their beliefs”.

“Some of the stuff that has come up through our peer support work is almost
a feeling of guilt of spending the time looking after themselves.”

When the scheme was launched it was aimed at those in deputy head levels and
above with no access to an employee assistance programme.

That was scrapped in June and the scheme was opened up to assistant heads in

However, the peer support route will be dropped from April.

McGuinness said this was “very popular” at the height of the pandemic when heads “wanted to get into the room and say to each other what on earth is going on, how do we deal with this?

“We are now seeing leaders are in a space to reflect and think about the impact of the past two or three years on them personally, and how that plays out professionally.”

An evaluation of the programme is being conducted by York Consulting.

The Department for Education was approached for comment.

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