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Oxfordshire County Council - stress case study - education

Who are they?

Oxfordshire County Council Coat of Arms

Oxfordshire County Council has responsibility for many key local services. Each year the council manages £845 million of public money in the provision of these services on behalf of Oxfordshire's 615,000 people. It is the largest employer in Oxfordshire.

No of employees:
20,000
Business Sector:
Local Authority

Why Oxfordshire County Council decided to manage stress using the Management Standards:

"Worklife Enhancement has raised the profile of well-being for all employees. It allows people to consider themselves and gives them the opportunity to reflect on their working practices and the effect they have on the individual and the school as a whole".
Primary school head teacher

Oxfordshire County Council knew that stress was an issue in some of its schools from looking at absence data and feedback from trade unions. The Council encourages schools to take action on stress and its HR department was tasked with producing a programme of work that would help reduce stress in the participating schools.

In 2004-05 it was decided to use the National Well-being Programme, a model designed by Teacher Support Network, to begin to tackle the issues. This led to the Council developing its own programme, called the Worklife Enhancement Scheme (WLE). The work at each school was self-funded and this meant that the programme was more affordable, particularly to the large number of small schools in the county.

WLE is now in its fourth year. It has a full time lead and forms part of the Council's health and safety strategy. New schools continue to become part of the scheme either where they identify that they need to take action or where this is identified as part of a health and safety audit. It is also planned to make Worklife Enhancement available to other council departments to help them prevent stress affecting the health of their workers.

How did they do it?

Key elements of the Worklife Enhancement Scheme

Prepare the Organisation Briefing head teachers on the process is essential to ensure that they are prepared to commit the resources needed to complete the activity and recognise the benefits of using the scheme. It is made clear that the scheme is helping the school look after their employees and complies with the law.
Gathering Data A member of the WLE team visits the schools to undertake a stress survey, where all employee groups have the opportunity to complete a confidential questionnaire, based on HSE Management Standards, [link to The Survey] on potential work related stress issues. Facilitators based in the schools help with the process and ensure that good quality information is gathered through the questionnaire. They also ensure that all employees know the purpose of the survey.
Exploring Problems and Developing Solutions A profile is made of the school, analysing the data provided in the questionnaires. This profile is discussed with the head teacher and facilitators. Feedback is given in a non-judgemental positive way by people trained in the process. The head teacher and facilitators then feedback to all employees and key actions are agreed.
Stress awareness training is delivered to employees in each school. Training in time management, communication or another area identified through the survey may also be delivered to those requiring it.
Recording Findings Action plans are drawn up by the facilitators following consultation involving all employees at the school. The facilitators may suggest measures that have worked in other schools, or staff may want to produce more local solutions.
Monitor and Review Network meetings to share best practice are held regularly both for head teachers and facilitators. The County Council’s Education Health and Safety Action Group has now taken on the role of the steering group. The survey is completed annually so that progress can be monitored, new actions identified and new solutions put in place.

What actions have schools taken?

The process helped staff talk more openly about stress and demonstrated the school's commitment to tackling stress, as well as the council's determination to improve the situation.

"At the time of the Worklife Enhancement training session I felt close to tears because all these emotions were brimming up and I was feeling so stressed. Talking about it was very difficult. The training made me examine the fact that stress was there and it gave me the tools to deal with it".
Newly Qualified Teacher in an Oxfordshire Primary School

Local solutions were put in place at individual schools:

The results

Where the survey has been repeated annually in schools, results show a steady improvement; staff have reduced their risk of the likelihood of increased levels of stress and improved levels of well-being at work when measured against the HSE Management Standards.

Schools participating in 2006/07 and 2007/08

A graph showing survey results for schools participating 2006-09

NB Ratings are 1- 4 (not 1-5) where 1 is the least favourable

The success of the scheme has led to more schools joining the Worklife Enhancement Scheme each year it has been in operation. The Head teachers, Governors and employees at participating schools can see the benefits of being involved in the process. Developing and implementing the scheme has also lead to some schools producing their own well-being initiatives outside the original scheme.

Worklife Enhancement has become an important part of Oxfordshire County Council’s well-being programme and work is taking place to expand the scheme to other divisions within the Council.

"The impact on the school has been tangible and positive. Most school leaders consider themselves to be mindful of the needs of their team, and everyone would like to think people are happy working with them".
Secondary school head teacher

Updated 2012-05-24