Education Mutual

Education Mutual are a non-profit making and DfE approved staff absence protection provider for Schools and Trusts. Their market leading cover provides budget security, alongside free healthcare for education staff with all memberships. As part of their ongoing commitment to the education sector, they’re proud to launch this report that supports our School Business Leaders

As part of their ongoing commitment to the education sector, they’re proud to launch ‘The School Business Leaders Wellbeing Index’. School Business Leaders play an essential – but often unnoticed – role in the smooth running of schools. They interact with everyone in the school community and are often relied upon to find solutions to the tricky issues no-one else can tackle. It benefits everyone to ensure they are mentally and emotionally healthy enough to take on this demanding, but important, role.

Yet, despite their central role in school life, and the increased interest in staff wellbeing following the Covid-19 pandemic, research relating to this group of staff is limited. Education Mutual have changed this, undertaking research in partnership with Education Support, across England and Wales to understand what aspects of their jobs affects SBL’s mental health and wellbeing.

Half of SBLs considered excessive workload as the main work-related factor which impacted on their mental health and wellbeing. This caused SBLs to feel stressed, overburdened, frustrated, and struggling to cope, worrying about their job outside of working hours and feeling isolated.

Three main causes of excessive workload were identified:

  • Holding a wide range of responsibilities central to school functions – the large range of responsibilities held by SBLs made the role highly demanding. This was particularly so at certain times of the year when there are pressure points, e.g. when budget setting.
  • Reacting to regular staff queries and the need to react to frequent requests from senior leaders.
  • Covering for colleagues – the lack of staff absence cover for administrative roles, compared to teachers’ roles was highlighted with the assumption that SBLs would undertake such cover which created a backlog to the SBLs’ own workload.

The lack of understanding about the SBL role varied across different schools. Some SBLs experienced a better understanding of their role by the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) compared to other staff, and for others it was the reverse. Issues around the lack of awareness of the role included:

  • Not understanding the difference between the SBL role and other administrative roles.
  • Lack of awareness about the many different functions associated with the SBL’s role and the time it takes to undertake such tasks (e.g. compliance).
  • SBLs sometimes not being included in all SLT meetings, despite attendance being relevant to their role. Some SLT members did not see it as directly relevant to the SBL. Although it is worth noting that the survey found that two-thirds (69%) of SBLs were a member of their school’s SLT.

Furthermore, many SBLs felt that their role was complex and solitary and not well understood by colleagues. As such, they often felt isolated working in schools. Some Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) held regular meetings with all their SBLs, as well as planning smaller sub-group meetings for professional development purposes centred on their SBLs’ needs. Having someone to talk to, and share ideas with, was one of the main areas SBLs thought it would be useful to have.
The SBLs role is rewarding but challenging. Below are some ideas that they hope will help to address some of the issues highlighted by the research.

a) Can you approach a colleague or senior leader within your school or academy trust to informally share ideas or opinions with?

b) Can you join local or national groups and support networks of SBLs, where experiences can be shared, and issues discussed?
c) Consider how you can foster better understanding of your role among your colleagues.
d) Think about your own mental and physical health and the ways in which this could be improved. It is all too easy to forget about your own needs when in a busy role helping others – it must be an equal priority.
Some senior leaders were found to have a good understanding of the role of the SBL, but others did not. Some recommendations for supporting your SBLs include:
a) Use the SBL Wellbeing Index to start a conversation with your SBLs. Do our findings chime with their experience? How can they best be supported?
b) Improve awareness of the SBL role to staff working at all levels. This will lead to better understanding and appreciation.

c) Consider how you can offer all staff access to wellbeing services (such as helplines, counselling, or training).