With the 2017 government green paper on children’s mental health citing schools as central to the wellbeing of young children and adolescents focus has, rightly, turned to wellbeing across the education sector and much research has gone into the promotion of wellbeing and mental health across the board, but what, exactly is wellbeing?
ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), which provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law, identifies wellbeing as:
“…the way people feel about their lives, including their jobs, and their relationships with the people around them.”
Wellbeing is an area of responsibility for which employers must take ownership, yet which comprises myriad branches, as shown in Figure 1 below, including those which exist outside of your workplace. Workplace wellbeing covers your physical state, including biophilic concepts, such as access to natural light and working temperatures, which have a physiological effect on your body, but also encompasses your psychological health.
The Association of Network Managers in Education (ANME) recognises the importance of workplace wellbeing and embraces the challenge of providing support for its members in an area of the wider education sector so often overlooked.
The Lone Wolf: the Network Manager’s lot
Within most schools there are countless operational staff, all of whom perform important yet often poorly-recognised roles, but in most areas there is usually more than one individual performing that role: this is generally not the case with Network Managers and Technicians who are more often the sole post holders. The responsibility of IT provision and efficacy falls to these lone soldiers who shoulder the burden without the support of similarly-encumbered colleagues with whom they may share their woes.
As a teacher myself, I recognise the value of the staff room; a haven away from pupils where I can indulge in a quick brainstorm with colleagues, a rant or a moan, or a scan through last month’s TES. While these occurrences may be infrequent, it is a privilege most Network Managers do not have access to and which, therefore, must have an impact on their workplace wellbeing. I have been known to lament the long hours, oft unnoticed by SLT, which I slave at my keyboard of a weekend or evening, or the CPD event to which I must trek for my own improvement, yet as the partner of a Network Manager I have come to recognise that demands are made of these unsung heroes tenfold (think about it; who is maintaining your remote desktop service while you’re knocking up that last-minute lesson plan??). Is teaching stressful? Indubitably. But so is the role of Network Manager… and without the benefits of a team of likeminded colleagues with whom to commiserate or the recognition (albeit grudgingly bestowed) from pupils and parents.
In a recent article, the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families identified that…
“any conversation about supporting our children’s wellbeing must also include how we support our teachers.”
… and a subsequent survey evidenced that over half of respondents would approach a colleague in a similar role, with fewer indicating that they would turn to their line manager or SLT, Figure 2. The consultation noted that it is, perhaps, a cause for concern that 11% would not approach anyone with work-related stress and worry; perhaps this number might reflect those staff members who do not have access to a colleague in a similar role.
ANME: your friend on the inside
The ANME strives to provide that network of support that is often so lacking to Network Managers. A free service, the ANME maintains an online forum where its members can, in confidence, access views, opinions and advice from other Network Managers without fear of reprisal. The service is non-judgemental (although a good sense of humour is an advantage) and unaligned to any product, organisation or company so thoughts can be sought on any area within the scope of the Network Manager’s remit. Contributors draw on the wealth of personal experience they have in their armoury and if they cannot answer your question, or offer a solution to that problem no one else in your school has even noticed yet, you can pretty much guarantee they know a man (or woman) who can.
The ANME also provides regular meetings across five regions of the UK. Designed to encourage sharing of best practise, ideas and experiences as well as to hear from leading providers of technological solutions, these meetings are free for members to attend and are key opportunities to make the bridge between online personas and real people, all of whom have faced the same dilemmas and disasters. These meetings also offer valuable and rare opportunities for CPD in a sector of education which is notably under supported.
The AFNCCF research reported that the single initiative identified as having the greatest impact on wellbeing at work was the reduction of workload, Figure 3. The ANME strives to contribute to a reduction in workload by offering a source of information, ideas and previous experiences collated by its members for its members. The process of “reinventing the wheel” is arguably the greatest timewasting exercise we all contribute to, and the ANME forums are ideal places for Network Managers to locate potential solutions which have already been implemented by colleagues, or avoiding the pitfalls which have claimed others along the way.
Whilst reduction in workload was cited as the top solution to improving wellbeing, also identified was peer support. In a position where the Network Manager may well be working alone, this is particularly difficult for employers to provide. However, the ANME provides the ideal platform for such individuals to interact. The online forum offers access to likeminded peers who recognise and sympathise with the trials and tribulations experienced daily, as well as an opportunity to ask for help, check in, or offer your own views on topical threads.
Wellbeing: making the sale
ACAS notes that staff respond positively to a sense that their job has significance within the workplace, as well as the perceived value of the job to society and that wellbeing can be improved through providing opportunities for employees to use and develop their skills. In education these are often available to staff through interaction with their peers, either at breaks in the staff room, during team meetings or CPD events, all of which offer opportunities for mutual appreciation and/or commiseration. Sharing of best practise is commonplace, and consistency is often ensured at the very crux of the awarding body’s requirements. However, these opportunities are generally lacking for Network Managers and Technicians. Lone working, limited front-of-house exposure and the unspoken drive for their work to go unnoticed by end users (admit it, how often do teachers stop by IT support unless there is a problem?) frequently results in these amazing men and women going entirely unrecognised and unsupported. The ANME and its members aim to even the odds a little and to provide a safe haven where even reclusive network “geeks” can hang out without feeling outnumbered and where their wealth of knowledge and experience is valued.
Kristina Gambling (Partner of ANME Ambassador Andrew White)
SEND & High Needs Tutor
The WASP Centre, Salisbury
 Department of Health and Department for Education (2017) Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision: a Green Paper https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/664855/Transforming_children_and_young_people_s_mental_health_provision.pdf
 Garland, L., Linehan, T., Merrett, N., Smith, J. and Payne, C. 2019. Ten steps towards school staff wellbeing Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families