Hidden costs of Covid: Further education workforce wellbeing during the pandemic

The current cost of the pandemic for the Further Education (FE) sector is largely unknown. FE institutions may already be able to identify the initial costs for example, PPE needed for health and safety procedures, IT equipment to facilitate working remotely and online delivery of learning to name a few, writes Dr Stephen Corbett, Head of School at the University of Portsmouth.

However, cost is not limited to the purchase of new equipment, there is also the potential cost of staff wellbeing. The FE workforce is engaging in activities far beyond ever expected before the pandemic. The pressure placed on staff at all levels is significant and further exacerbated by the limited time to ensure equipment, training and support could be proactively put in place.

This is a situation many, if not all, sectors are facing. It is vital that senior leaders in the FE sector are given the information and support to better understand the potential impact on their workforce so they are equipped to respond proactively and effectively. Otherwise there is a high likelihood that staff wellbeing, workforce retention, organisational performance and student experience will all go into decline.

Prior to the pandemic, Health and Safety Executive statistics highlighted that teachers and educators in Great Britain report the highest rates of work-related stress, depression and anxiety of all occupational groups. Like the wider education sector, wellbeing in the FE workforce is lower than the general population. Many institutions in the sector work hard to recruit, retain and support their staff. However, these efforts are in vain if staff wellbeing is in decline. As noted in the 2019 Ofsted report into wellbeing at work, lower levels of staff wellbeing can lead to a demotivated workforce, higher rates of staff sickness and poor staff retention all of which impact negatively on the student experience. It is, therefore, somewhat unsurprising that Ofsted found ‘Outstanding’ providers to have the highest levels of staff wellbeing.

The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) commissioned research into staff wellbeing in the sector, which put forward recommendations to improve wellbeing in the FE workforce. Unfortunately, the sector had insufficient time to consider this report as three months after its publication the world experienced the global Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic does not mean that the fundamental need for research into wellbeing of the FE workforce is diminished. In fact, it is likely that it is needed more now than ever. However, the change we have experienced in our professional and personal lives means that we need to rethink the research.

It is for this reason that the ETF is pleased that academics at the University of Portsmouth are launching a new national survey of those working in the FE sector. This survey seeks to replicate previous research into work life balance and wellbeing, however, this time it will be done in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

If you currently work in the FE sector, in any role or capacity, please take 10 minutes to complete the online survey. Once the survey has closed the responses will be analysed and published. A paper with recommendations will be presented to the ETF for consideration and dissemination.