Supervision in Education – what is it and why is it important?
Updated: Sep 24
Work in people-focused professions brings many challenges. This is widely acknowledged in areas such as social work, counselling and clinical psychology. Due to the emotional demands inherent in the work, regular support in the form of supervision is embedded within these professions.
Despite experiencing similar challenges, teaching professionals do not have equivalent support systems in place. In this blog we hope to open a conversation about supervision in education. We discuss what it is and why it is important.
The wellbeing challenges of working in education.
Findings from the Teacher Wellbeing Index 2022 show that 78% of education staff reported having experienced poor mental health as a result of their work
These data are echoed by figures from the Health and Safety Executive 2022, which identifies the education sector as having significantly higher than average rates of work-related stress, anxiety and depression.
Working in education requires staff at all levels to develop strong relationships with learners, to support them through personal challenges, setbacks and crises, as well as responding to their educational needs.
However, teaching staff often lack training in these pastoral elements and are afforded little space and time to reflect on their impact on personal mental health and wellbeing.
What is supervision?
Supervision has many definitions but is generally considered to be a system of regular support, providing space for reflection, as well as development of knowledge, skills and competence.
Whilst it can have a range of functions, central to supervision is the protected, reflective space for processing difficult or distressing aspects of the supervisee’s role or job. Support is also provided to resolve to ethical dilemmas and understand interpersonal dynamics.
Supervision allows staff members to explore different perspectives on the challenges they face, to make sense of and find ways to overcome them. Supervisees are better equipped to leave their concerns at work, meaning time at home is reserved for the rest and recovery they need.
All these functions help to enhance self-care and protect the supervisee from stress and burnout, allowing them to perform at their best for those they serve.
Why supervision in education is important
Positive relationships between staff and students are essential for growing the feelings of safety, connection and belonging that are needed for young people’s mental health.
But when staff are overwhelmed, stressed or burnt out, they have fewer emotional or practical resources to be able to connect with and support students.
The 2019 Centre for Mental Health report highlights how poor wellbeing amongst education staff, as well as a lack of training in mental health, serve as barriers to student mental health.
“There is often little support and supervision offered to teachers for their own wellbeing and mental health. Approaches to improving mental health and wellbeing in educational settings must urgently consider support for professionals”. Centre for Mental Health, 2019
Benefits of supervision in education settings
Despite the fact that routinely offering supervision has potential to bring a range of positive staff and student outcomes, it is still relatively uncommon in schools and colleges.
Current availability of supervision in schools and colleges
Availability of supervision in schools and colleges is limited. In fact, in 2020 Barnardos found that 60% of school staff had no experience of professional supervision in their work.
And yet 95% of respondents indicated that they would “support supervision in education as core practice in principle, in the same way it is in clinical practice and other health and social care sectors”.
Increasingly, there have been calls for systems of professional support and training to be made available to all staff in education settings. For example, in their 2023 report aimed at improving staff and student mental wellbeing, The Association of Colleges highlight the widespread provision of ‘professional supervision’ as one of their key recommendations.
However, the lack of trained supervisors within the education sector and the cost of providing external supervision remain major barriers to provision.
Embedding supervision within education
The Centre for Inclusive Education at the UCL Institute of Education and the Chartered College of Teaching have attempted to address these issues.
In a pilot study, senior leaders and SENCOs were offered training in professional supervision skills, along with experiential learning through group and individual supervision. The training focused both on developing participants’ understanding of the process of supervision and skills in delivering supervision to colleagues.
The results showed that by training just one school leader it was possible to cascade this training through the organisation, embedding supervision and offering a financially viable and sustainable approach to providing supervision.
With its focus on supporting professional development and inclusive practice, improving teacher wellbeing and retention, supervision in education has a broad reach. There is clear potential for significant gains personally, professionally and organisationally. This means supervision is good for staff, good for students and good for the whole organisation.
If you would like to find out more about our Supervisor Training for Education Settings, please get in touch.