School children to take part in one of the largest mental health trials in the world. But what about the teachers?

In was announced last week that schools in England are set to take part in one of the largest mental health trials in the world, according to Education Secretary Damian Hinds. Up to 370 schools will be involved in the scheme to boost evidence about what works to support mental health and wellbeing.

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Hundreds of children and young people will learn how to use a range of methods from mindfulness exercises, relaxation techniques and breathing exercises to help them regulate their emotions. These methods will be used alongside pupil sessions with mental health experts.

The study will run until 2021 and aims to give schools new evidence about what works best for their students' mental health and wellbeing.

But what about the teachers and their mental health? We all know that they are spending more and more of their time in lesson planning, marking and testing than ever before. Don't they deserve to take part too?

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According to Jamie Bristow, in his 2016 report ‘Building the Case for Mindfulness in the Workplace’, “Mindfulness is a natural capacity, present in all of us to some extent. It involves paying purposeful attention to our experience, with particular attitudes like openness and curiosity. We are all too familiar with its opposite: a heedless, distracted state that’s often described as ‘autopilot’. This default inattentiveness and disengagement from present experience can mean we react to life out of habit or impulse rather than care and consideration. When we spend more time alive to our experience, however, we unlock our potential for learning and growing and are better able to respond creatively to life’s challenges.” Jamie Bristow is Director of the Mindfulness Initiative, Associate of the UK's Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group.

Every day our frontline services see children and teenagers struggling to get to grips with how they fit into the increasingly complex modern world – contending with things like intense pressure at school, bullying or problems at home, all while being bombarded by social media.
— Imran Hussain, Action for Children’s director of policy and campaigns

Teaching is seen as an incredibly stressful job these days, with more and more pressure being put on both the teaching and support staff in schools, colleges and universities. A YouGov poll last November concluded that the vast majority of teachers (83%) feel stressed because of their job. And nearly a third (32%) are ‘very stressed’. The YouGov poll also asked teachers what the main causes of their stress were, and following seven factors were cited:

1. 60% said marking workload
2. 42% said the inspection regime
3. 42% said changing education policy
4. 40% said behaviour management
5. 23% said planning lessons
6. 18% said pressure from parents
7. 18% per cent said league tables

Similarly, a report in The Guardian back in April 2018, stated that the number of teachers seeking mental health support has risen by 35% in the past 12 months. Many of them are in crisis. It’s little wonder that there is a serious staff recruitment and retention issue in education.

Some MBCT mindfulness courses we have offered in schools and colleges were just six weeks of 60 to 75-minute sessions, as this tends to fit in well within the framework of the academic year. One headteacher told us that the staff felt overwhelmingly that the course allowed them time in their busy lives to reflect on their own sense of belonging. Each session was viewed as a very positive experience and staff also felt skilled to use the mindfulness strategies during their working day and also at home. In a very busy profession and during times of stress, the staff felt that the skills enabled them to become calmer and put things into perspective.

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Another primary school deputy head reported back that (the term after the course had been delivered) the school had introduced mindfulness as part of a wider PSHE programme. The staff feeling confident to deliver this after having been part of the sessions run by us. The staff felt the course was delivered in a very positive and non-threatening way and all agreed they would happily take part in another one if it was available to them.

Building a case for Mindfulness in the Workplace indicates that there are considerable benefits being evidenced in different forms of delivery adapted to the demands of the work environment. Although we offered a shorter course in some cases and were unable to cover the course in quite as much depth as would be usual, staff still reported considerable benefits to their wellbeing and management of stress both at school/work and in their home life.

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