Exploring the link between pupil outcomes and teacher wellbeing

Last month, the Government announced new plans for teachers to be trained to spot the early signs of mental ill-health in children as a means of prioritising prevention. This comes on the back of the earlier Timpson Review which recommended more training for school staff in general (to encourage positive behaviour cultures in school) as well as specific training which focuses on attachment and trauma for senior leaders if we are to reduce the disproportionate exclusion of children with poor mental health needs and/or special educational needs. Clearly, this suggests a step in the right direction but as we shall explore here, it’s still a long way from reducing the spiralling exclusion rates for our vulnerable children. In fact, it might just be placing more pressure on the very people who are the game changers needing support to make this vital difference in our education system. 

The most recent Teacher Wellbeing Index survey confirms 74% of teachers  don’t get enough guidance about mental health at work, and 50% report receiving no training on the needs of children who have experienced trauma despite working daily with vulnerable children.

At Khulisa, we’ve noticed the deterioration in childrens’ mental wellbeing during the past 10 years running programmes in schools. Our own programme content has been tailored to suit the changing needs of this cohort and our methodology reflects the increasing levels of traumatised children we meet. At the same time, we’ve also noticed how tough it is for teachers to be able to respond to these increasing needs, as well as meeting the challenging demands of the academic calendar. It’s clear something needs to change in our education system.  

We know children require consistency, safety and clear boundaries to enable them to learn and grow, particularly those who are the most vulnerable. Systemically, this means that to sustain the positive impact of our programmes with young people, the environment in which they are learning has to nurture that change. This requires a whole-school approach supporting both children and staff well-being. Teachers need to understand how trauma and negative experiences impact the body and brain, as well as how this affects early childhood development and presents itself as behaviour; at the same time as being able to recognise issues with their own wellbeing and understand how to manage their own self-care in this challenging environment. 

Increasingly, we have been asked to share our practice-based experience and work with teachers to embed this knowledge within the school context, to enable greater levels of resilience for both teachers and the young people in their care. This has involved us providing knowledge and skills for teachers as well as providing therapeutic supervision and peer-reflection skills/frameworks for the organisations we work with. Our trauma-informed approach recognises that behavioural challenges prevent academic learning and put increased strain on teaching provision, so wellbeing of staff and children has to be taken into account if we are to stem exclusion rates in education. Without this dual focus, the school to prison pipeline seems bound to continue.

Training teachers to spot the signs of mental ill-health is a welcome step but we must also provide support for teachers’ wellbeing if pupil outcomes are to improve.

As a result of our experience, we launched trauma-informed training for professionals earlier this year, to enable us to start meeting the need for practice-based tools and techniques for behaviour management, together with practical self-care and peer reflection within schools and for all those who provide support for our young people.

Since the launch of our training for professionals in January 2019, we have enabled more than 200 professionals to look beneath presenting behaviour and understand what’s going on in a young person’s brain and body; as well as understanding how to respond effectively.  Our approach seems to be working: 

  • 93% of professionals report that they plan to do something differently as a result of this training.
  • 91% of professionals trained say they found our training programme very or extremely useful in their day to day roles.

This indicates that the government’s plan to train professionals in how to spot the warning signs of mental ill-health and negative behaviour is an important and vital step in creating a sustainable education system for young people. That said, unless we also provide support for these teachers, who are increasingly suffering burnout, compassion fatigue and the impacts of vicarious trauma; this knowledge will not be enough to stem the rise in exclusion rates.  

Research shows the number of teachers seeking mental health support has risen by 35% in the last 12 months with 53% of surveyed teachers reporting they have considered leaving the sector in the past two years because of health pressures.

We know that student well-being is related to the well-being of teachers, a fact that teachers themselves recognise: 77% of teachers feel that poor teacher mental health has a detrimental effect on pupils’ progress.  We see this first-hand as practitioners, which is why  Khulisa’s professionals’ training programme equips participants with  tools and knowledge to improve personal resilience & well-being; acknowledging the challenges they increasingly face in their role.

At an individual level, we help professionals understand their own  potential for compassion fatigue as well as to understand their own stress  responses. At a systemic level, we help schools and other social care organisations to focus attention on the environmental changes needed to support both teachers and young people, particularly those most at risk.  This practice-based approach is yielding results: 

  • 98% of professionals trained report being better able to safeguard their own needs as a result of the training
  • 74% of professionals report that our training programme has significantly improved their morale at work
“I am more aware of why I may react to [bad] behaviour and thanks to the training I am better able to remain self-regulated. The programme has also reduced my stress levels so I am better able to perform my role.” - A secondary school teacher

We welcome all efforts to provide training for professionals in how to support young people with complex needs in order to improve life outcomes for young people. We also know these efforts are fruitless until support is provided for these professionals to ensure they are able to sustain a level of care that doesn’t burn them out or put them (and those in their care) at risk in the process. It’s part of Khulisa’s long term strategy and commitment to well-being to continue to train and support professionals. 


To discuss how Khulisa’s trauma-informed approach could help support your team or organisation, please call Lisa Rowles on 07717 510525, or email lisa@khulisa.co.uk


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