23rd January 2023
Only One in Ten Schools Sign up to DfE Wellbeing Charter
Poor take up of government initiative
The Department for Education's wellbeing charter, launched in November 2021, has been greeted with apathy by 90% of the eligible schools. Only 2,350 schools have made the voluntary pledge, so far. The charter was co-created by unions, teachers and charities, and schools were invited to sign up to 11 commitments. To date, only one in 10 schools has signed up to the charter that outlines commitments they should make to “protect” staff's mental health and wellbeing. The commitments included creating a good behaviour culture, driving down the unnecessary workload and giving staff “a voice” in decision-making. It also featured commitments for the DfE and Ofsted to meet.
Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary at the time the charter was created, said staff mental health was “more important than ever” They encouraged all schools “to put wellbeing at the centre of everything you do and sign up to the charter”.
Reaction to the charter
Senior policy adviser at school leaders’ union NAHT, Sarah Hannafin, said the DfE needed to go “way beyond a simple charter.” She added, “We stressed at the time that this needed to be part of a much wider commitment … to long-term culture change. We have seen little sign of this so far.” With schools already doing “all they can”, she called for the government to commit to a “comprehensive review into its support for staff wellbeing and a new approach”. Research will be carried out on those who did commit. The DfE have said that schools should “sign up when it is right” for them and when they would get the most benefit.
Some schools view the charter as a “tick-box exercise." Patrick Ottley-O’Connor, a school wellbeing coach and former executive head said, “The DfE could have provided something more tangible and with accountability. It relies on the headteacher or governing body being absolutely committed to creating a culture.”
The charter in action
Balmoral Learning Trust uses the charter in two Sunderland schools. Head of HR and governance, Faye Chase said the trust was already doing most of the commitments already, such as supporting staff with professional development and surveying on mental health. However, the charter provides national benchmarks to work towards and staff “can see that we are taking it seriously”. Operational resources director at The Two Counties Trust, Debbie Duggan, said the plan really helped its nine schools “focus” on its wellbeing priorities post-lockdown. To help with retention, as part of the flexible working commitment, it has also introduced a sabbatical policy.
The DfE and Ofsted have pledged to review the charter’s progress this year.