Michael Longstaff, Course Director, Durham SCITT

Approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year and, in England, one in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week.

Therefore, it is not surprising that we are seeing a rising number of applicants to teacher training who have complex mental health issues. Some of these issues may be disclosed, but many applicants choose to stay silent, perhaps worried that they will not be considered suitable for teaching if they admit that they have suffered from depression or anxiety.

It seems every year there are a growing number of trainees who exhibit some form of mental health issue during their training. Many of these trainees are amazing teachers who have a lot to contribute to the profession and we do our very best to make sure we give them enough support to enable them to finish their training.

A recent study found that two in five Newly Qualified Teachers have experienced mental health issues in the last year. That is why we welcome the Early Career Framework and its promise of better training and support in the first two years after being awarded Qualified Teacher Status, but this is only part of the solution.

As a School Centred Initial Teacher Training provider, we rely on the honestly of the applicant; if they do not declare a condition on the occupational health form, we cannot get the Anglepoise out and question them until they crack! We make good use of the first few weeks of training, looking carefully at trainee characteristics and their engagement with the training process. However, many issues do not surface until midway through the first placement, when a mentor raises a concern. By this point, the trainee might be in a downward spiral and feel they have no choice but to leave the course. It is at this point that we try to pick up the pieces, sometimes not really feeling qualified to do so.

To try to help the trainees we, along with many providers, have embraced the workload challenge, cutting down on needless paperwork, going ‘electronic’ for a pared-down evidence portfolio and taking a balanced approach to helping trainees deal with the stress that can come with training to teach. There is a fine line between someone having a ‘wobble’ on their first day and someone experiencing a panic attack at the thought of standing in front of a class of students or being overcome with depression. This must be managed extremely carefully.

We now talk a lot more about how trainees might feel when they meet a class for the first time, or when a lesson goes badly wrong. We also look at managing the relationship between trainee and mentor. A trainee’s unrealistic expectations can lead to a breakdown in that relationship and exacerbate stress and anxiety.

We also refer trainees back to occupational health, whenever necessary, to ensure trainees get the support they need from trained professionals. We have introduced a mindfulness and wellbeing ‘carousel’, as well as an ‘excelling under stress’ workshop – trainees are encouraged to think about their stress ‘triggers’ and are shown ways in which they can manage them day-to-day. We now have more tutorials and encourage trainees to talk about how they are feeling.

This is a big change for us, but one that enables us to build closer working relationships with the trainees and, as a result, they feel more able to open up about the issues they might be facing. The language of mindfulness is now a thread that runs through the course: a thread to which we pay more than just lip service.

We were pleased to see that NASBTT had organised the ‘Establishing a Counselling, Wellbeing and Mental Health First Aid Provision for Trainee Teachers’ conference; and we signed up immediately. As a provider, we need as much guidance as possible to ensure we support all of our trainees effectively. Training on ways in which to deal with stress and anxiety should be as ubiquitous as training on how to use assessment or differentiation. However, we are not experts. Therefore, we must make sure we get the right advice from the right people and implement new strategies carefully.

Provider details: Durham SCITT

Website: www.durhamscitt.co.uk/

Twitter: @DurhamSCITT

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