Today, Barnardo’s Scotland released a report calling for more support to be made available for the mental health and wellbeing of teaching staff within schools. Dr Alan Bainbridge, argues that the provision of supervision in education should be a moral obligation.

The new report by Barnardo’s Scotland on Supervision in Education – Caring for the carersincludes a case study and findings from research carried out at Canterbury Christ Church University. A group of academics and practitioners in the Faculty of Education have since 2014 been providing, researching and developing a model of supervision for education professionals. 

As a result of this work, I argue that the provision of supervision in education should be a moral obligation for two very simple reasons:

1) It improves the professional practice of teachers and therefore the educational experience of young people

2) It supports the health and well-being of staff and students.

Our research at the University identifies the distinctive capacity-building potential of supervision in education to capitalize on existing strengths and support. Not providing supervision will therefore reduce the opportunities to positively develop professional practice and consequently, the present and future learning experiences and outcomes of young people. Importantly, this would also lead to a negative impact on the social and emotional lives of the professionals and children in education settings.

What then is this miraculous silver bullet that can put right so many wrongs?

Supervision sits within a broad range of ‘talking’ interventions and like its close relatives of coaching, counseling and mentoring, it provides a collaborative confidential space for professionals to reflect on their practice. The model of supervision we have been developing and researching has been informed by contemporary psycho-social thinking, and the well-established process of clinical supervision experienced by many health care and social workers.

The significant difference in our role as supervisors is that we do not provide guidance, set goals or offer sympathy but to encourage those we work with to sit with and think about both the troublesome and satisfying aspects of their jobs – no matter how uncomfortable. Supervision is hard work and not a cosy chat! We take the position that the supervisee knows their work situation better than anyone else, equally, given time and suitable support they are best situated to reflect on and change their professional practice, and often their work/life balance for the better.

The case for supervision in a range of people-focused professions has long been made, so why should we be making the case for supervision now?

Those colleagues who work with young children in schools have in recent years experienced a significant ‘mission creep’ in demands on their professional, emotional and personal lives. The day-to-day job of teaching and learning has come under increased governmental control and public scrutiny. Alongside this, teachers are being expected to manage the escalating complex and often emotionally disturbing demands required to care for their pupils, families and often the wider community.

It is neither extreme, nor a surprise to suggest that our formal education system is at a historic moment of crisis; with reports of increasing numbers of new and well-established teachers as well as senior school leaders leaving the profession. Additionally, more and more young people and staff working in schools are presenting with not only negative but often clinically significant mental ill-health experiences.

It is time that those who have an influence on education policy to take heed of the research evidence and observations from practice and invest in those who educate and care for children. Poor practice is not good for teachers or learners. Emotionally exhausted teachers cannot be expected to provide the support so many children now need. Supervision should be part of the job description for all education professionals. To not support this initiative suggests that those in positions of power are unwilling to care sufficiently for the professionals who care for and educate our children.

Dr Alan Bainbridge is Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education.