MEMBERS of school leaders’ union NAHT Cymru say a potential new wave of Covid is their main concern for the new academic year.

Nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of school leaders taking part in an NAHT Cymru survey said that, for the autumn term, a new Covid wave was their top worry. This is followed by the wellbeing of staff (73 per cent), rolling out the new curriculum (68 per cent) and the wellbeing of pupils (56 per cent).

The top causes of stress for school leaders when they undertook the survey at the end of last term, were Covid rules and regulations (74 per cent), concerns about the mental health and wellbeing of staff (68 per cent) and the roll out of the new curriculum (also 68 per cent).

Six in 10 (59 per cent) stated the new ALN code of practice and almost a third (31 per cent) of respondents listed Estyn inspections as top causes of stress.

A large majority (82 per cent) of respondents reported that the pandemic had had a negative impact on their mental health. Those that reported poor or very poor mental health came to 39 per cent, and 28 per cent reported that their physical health had been very poor or poor over the previous 12 months.

Almost all respondents (94 per cent) agree that their school would benefit from having more time to focus on developing the new curriculum in Wales.

Laura Doel, director, NAHT Cymru said: “The Welsh Government’s new Covid-19 operational guidance for schools has removed of some key mitigation measures, such as the ability to stagger start and finish times and placing learners in contact groups. Those measures are now deemed unnecessary by the government, even though they had very little impact on the delivery of education.

“While school leaders are eager to get back to ‘business as usual’, given the current circumstances of Covid cases being on the rise in the community, unfortunately, there is a sense of apprehension about the autumn term.

“Quite rightly, there has been a great deal of focus on the mental health and well-being of pupils during the pandemic, but we need to recognise and pay attention to the well-being of school staff too. There were already serious concerns about the well-being of teachers and school leaders before the pandemic, and our survey adds to strong evidence that suggests that the pandemic has only exacerbated this pre-existing issue.

“The quality of teaching is a crucial factor in addressing attainment gaps, and if we want teachers and leaders to be at their best, we cannot continue to only pay lip service to the issue of their well-being. The government has begun to recognise the scale of this issue with the whole school mental health approach, but this does not go far enough to address our concerns and there is an urgent need to be much bolder.

“The well-being and mental health of school staff must be placed at the heart of the recovery process, and the Welsh Government must be prepared to look again at some of the fundamental problems driving excessive teacher workload.”

Laura added: “Schools already play a significant role in supporting the mental health and well-being of their pupils. Emerging evidence suggests that the demands on this provision have increased significantly.

“Schools need to be properly funded so they can enhance and expand their contribution to promoting good mental health and well-being amongst pupils of all ages, identifying any emerging mental health needs and referring those pupils on to health professionals for support and treatment where appropriate.”

Kerina Hanson, president of NAHT Cymru said: “NAHT’s blueprint for education recovery, which we have recommended to government, draws on the vision our members have for the future of education in Wales, and our expectations are on the government to harness our ambition for change: we can’t just return to ‘normal.’”

The survey took place in the first two weeks of July 2021. There were 111 respondents.