Wellbeing projects: Nurturing Potential

by Mark Edwards



Mark Edwards' biodata will be found at the end of the article, or by clicking here.


In 1992, when I was still a Head Teacher, my School Support Officer suddenly vanished, never to be seen again. Actually to be more specific his title did. The same chap remained, as affable and supportive as ever, only now he was known as a ‘Schools Officer’. A seemingly minor alteration but one that signified an important change in the relationship between LEAs and schools. 

A few years later I wrote a letter to the Chief Education Officer describing  a vision I had  for developing a personal support structure for Heads and teachers. It was partly in response to the increasing levels of stress that I and my colleagues were experiencing, and I began working with a senior LEA advisor on putting together a package that we believed could provide necessary personal support for colleagues. It was basically about stress management and creating a healthy work/life balance. 

The CEO must have been impressed because he phoned personally to arrange a visit. We talked the ideas over and he followed the visit up with a letter thanking me for my time and expressing a wish to develop the plans further. Then it went quiet. I heard nothing for ages, and then the advisor and I discovered that he had organised a ‘School Improvement Planning’ conference for headteachers on the same day for which our ‘Healthy Headship’ (as we called it) launch was planned. 

I left the Authority shortly after that, slightly bewildered. I still teach though I am also training in counselling and psychotherapy. Recently I discovered that the LEA I currently work for is showing an interest in some ‘well-being’ programmes which have been piloted by Norfolk LEA. They appear to be basically about  stress management and creating a healthy work/life balance. 

You can call me a cynic if you like, but this is not a case of sour grapes. I didn’t work for Norfolk and I’m sure I haven’t been the only one to trumpet the importance of emotional health. Well done to that LEA for their pioneering work and I’m glad that finally people are taking notice. No, what really irks me is the fact that local LEA officers are now attending presentations by Norfolk and will presumably set up their own ‘well-being’ programmes as a result. Once they have been safely pioneered and ‘tested’ and stamped with the DofEs seal of approval, people will be falling over themselves in the rush to jump on what will surely become yet another bandwagon. A ‘Well-being Chartermark Award’ is not inconceivable. 

And it’s all for the wrong reasons. When I first developed my ideas about supporting colleagues it was because I thought it important that people felt supported and that they maintained a sensible work/life balance. Full stop. Not because it would lead to a prestigious award, and not even because teachers might  be likely to stay in their posts longer. And not because it might positively affect standards, though it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that a caring, supportive environment in which people feel valued might just have an effect on teaching and learning. No, I just thought that it was important to care about people as an end in itself, a belief that became unfashionable in the 1980’s and seemed to die a quiet death in the subsequent decade. Now there is much talk about emotional literacy. It has almost  become a buzzword now, but its underlying humanistic principles have been around since Neanderthal man first uttered his angst-ridden screams. 

Those principles are based on a belief that people matter; people with thoughts and feelings who reflect about what happens to them in their daily lives.  Lives that are more than just a salary-earning exercise comprising of a desperate scramble to meet the increasingly unrealistic targets set for them by a Government which has its own sights set firmly on the next election. People  who are becoming increasingly stressed as a result and are beginning to wonder why they are doing what they are being asked – or told – to do. 

As I write this, I hear that LEAs are being encouraged to develop ‘well-being’ programmes to avoid possible litigation in the future by staff who might claim that the authority did not fulfil its legal ‘duty of care’ obligation. I also hear that a senior Government minister has resigned because he wants to spend more time with his family. 

Cynical? Perhaps. Older and wiser? Definitely.


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Mark Edwards was a headteacher, who still teaches part-time but combines this with writing articles, educational consultancy and entertaining people who like to hear badly performed rock, pop and music hall classics. He still carries a torch for child-centred education and is encouraged by the current interest in emotional literacy and thinking skills in schools. Mark is re-locating to Somerset, with his partner Liz,  where he will continue his training in Integrative Counselling. He is a Master Practitioner in NLP (Psychotherapy). Email: Mark4Ed@aol.com.