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MENTAL HEALTH RATED AS BIGGEST CONCERN FOR SCHOOLS

 

*Nearly four in five schools rated mental health as having the biggest impact on their organisation in the last year

*Almost three quarters (73%) of school leaders expect mental health and wellbeing to continue to be one of the biggest challenges over the next five years

*Zurich Municipal report reveals the biggest challenges facing public and voluntary sector organisations and their future concerns

*The insurer is currently working with Fika, a mental fitness learning and skills development partner, to address mental health in education

 

Nearly four in five school leaders say mental health and wellbeing was the biggest challenge for their organisation in the last year, according to a new report, which highlights the scale of the mental health crisis facing schools.   

 

The study by specialist insurer, Zurich Municipal and YouGov, revealed that for 78% of senior decision makers in primary and secondary schools, mental health and wellbeing had a “very big” or “substantial impact” on their organisation in the last 12 months – the highest out of seven challenges facing the sector. This was markedly higher than the average of 60% when looking at all public and third sector organisations surveyed.

 

The research went on to reveal future drivers of change and concerns, and predicts mental health will continue to have a major impact in schools. Nearly three quarters (73%) of school leaders expect mental health and wellbeing to continue to be one of the main challenges over the next five years – ranking second out of seven factors. However, it is issues related to funding and government policy that will become the primary worry in the future, with 85% of school leaders believing this will impact them the most.

 

In its study – The Future of the public and voluntary sectors – Zurich Municipal explored the general sentiment about the future of the public and voluntary sectors; views on current and future drivers of change and their relative impact; and future challenges and opportunities.  

 

Across all respondents, the study found the impact of mental health and wellbeing was most keenly felt in schools, followed by further and higher education establishments (71%) and charities (53%).  But while mental health and wellbeing had the greatest impact, primary and secondary school leaders also cited funding and government policy and the changing nature of work as having had a significant bearing on them in the last year – 71% and 63%.

 

Zurich’s findings come as a recent report by the charity, Education Support, found 77% of school staff are stressed (rising to 84% of senior leaders) and that over a third (38%) of education staff had experienced a mental health issue in the past academic year. 

 

Alix Bedford, Risk Proposition Manager, Zurich Municipal comments: “Working in the school environment has always been high pressured, but for nearly two years now, education staff have experienced an ongoing situation of unpredictability and stress. It is understandable that this would have a huge impact on mental health and wellbeing.  There are also concerns over the adverse impact of the pandemic on pupils, adding to the other issues already affecting young people’s mental health.

 

“Schools have a duty of care for the mental health and wellbeing of their staff and students. Awareness and understanding of the scope of this issue is rapidly evolving, but the policies, strategies and actions needed to respond must evolve rapidly too. If left unchecked, this risk could dwarf some others.”

 

Zurich Municipal is currently working with Fika, a mental fitness learning and skills development partner, to address mental health in education and offer training.  The three-month pilot, running until March, is part of Zurich’s aim to help schools protect their people as well as their property.   

 

Dr Amanda McNamee, Senior Mental Fitness Scientist at Fika said: “The state of declining mental health in education presents a risk in academic performance and stress to learners and burnout amongst staff. Current approaches pose a significant risk by reacting to declining mental health instead of preventing it. Fika has set out to mitigate the risk of decline and improve performance through a formal, proactive education-for-all solution and online mental fitness training tool.”

 

Fig 1. Issues that have had a big or significant impact schools in the last 12 months

 

Challenge Primary / Secondary Education Average across public and third sector
Mental health and wellbeing 78% 60%
Funding and fiscal policy 71% 67%
The changing nature of work e.g. hybrid working and workforce challenges 63% 68%
Changing community expectations and needs 62% 57%
Digital, data and automation 50% 52%
Changing organisational structures 39% 40%
Adapting to climate change 10% 18%

 

 

Fig.2 Issues that are predicted to have a big or significant impact schools  in the next five years

 

Challenge Primary / Secondary Education Across pubic and third sector
Funding and fiscal policy 85% 78%
Mental health and wellbeing 73% 57%
Changing community expectations and needs 58% 63%
Digital, data and automation 48% 56%
Changing organisational structures 44% 43%
 The changing nature of work (e.g. hybrid working and workforce challenges) 33% 55%
Adapting to climate change 21% 34%

Educational Facilities Optimised for Student Wellbeing, Performance and Sustainability

The concept of Smart buildings is being driven by a need for buildings to reduce carbon, reduce costs, and improve occupants’ environment, therefore allowing them to be more productive, prioritising their health and wellbeing. amBX have written a whitepaper on Smart buildings, and how we can expect to see more of them in the future, as our SmartCore technology enables smart buildings with an interoperable control platform. One of the key features is smart lighting control and monitoring, in particular circadian lighting/human-centric lighting.

 

Research published by Vodafone shows that currently, in the UK and EU, buildings are responsible for 36% of overall carbon emissions. There is much that can be done to improve this. Many believe it starts with schools; upgrading and retrofitting, involving students, and educating them about environmentally friendly solutions and how they can have a positive impact now and in the future. Added to the fact that school buildings are rapidly ageing and becoming increasingly inefficient, leading to unnecessary carbon emissions and high utility bills.

 

The Let’s Go Zero campaign states that 60% of the energy used by schools is wasted out-of-hours, and schools in England alone spend £600m per year on energy – the second-largest budget item after staff salaries. By installing Smart Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems that coordinate through the exchange of data to optimise each function’s efficiency also help create smarter buildings. Motion sensors also prevent wasteful cooling, heating and lighting of empty or low utilised spaces. In addition, predictive maintenance through smart technology can eliminate the wasteful replacement and breakdown of a building’s assets.

 

Smart IoT sensors that monitor electricity, gas and water can help Facility Managers identify areas where wastage occurs, and simple changes can be made, which amount to big savings. Combining these sensors with AI and machine learning, presents an opportunity for the building to begin to make these changes and decisions by itself, autonomously saving energy and water. 

 

Therefore, if schools are adopting new smart HVAC systems, it makes sense to also investigate the lighting of the schools. If there is a need to be smarter to reduce costs and emissions, then surely lighting that also benefits students’ health should be considered. In schools, the results of recent research into the effects of applying circadian lighting capabilities and principles show a marked difference in how this type of lighting can deliver compared to conventional lighting set-ups. 

 

Understanding the impact of light on human behaviour has advanced rapidly. It is now possible to use circadian lighting principles easily and cost-effectively. In human beings’ evolution, we have been exposed to artificial light for an extremely short amount of time. However, many of us now spend most of our day under artificial light and until very recently, this lighting has failed to reproduce the light experience for which we are “programmed”. 

 

As well as using lighting to help synchronise the human circadian cycle, it has been found that levels of illuminance are key to cognitive performance. A 2011 study in the Netherlands found that increasing illuminance levels in schools at certain times of day and changing the colour temperature of the lights indicated a positive influence on pupils’ concentration. Researchers found students were more alert and scored higher on their tests when they were in a classroom with 6500K lighting.

 

A further study conducted by Kazan State University in 2015 demonstrated the influence of different lighting types on visual performance. For example, there was a 20% improvement in the performance of the tasks speed during tests where the colour temperature was 5800K in comparison to fluorescent lighting. The number of errors also reduced hugely.

 

SmartCore technology from amBX helps to improve occupant health and wellbeing as it follows the Circadian rhythm, maintaining natural body clocks, by ensuring we receive the right amount, quality, colour, and intensity of light at the right times of the day. The Education sector is one of many currently adopting and embracing smart technology to achieve this and create an environment that allows students to thrive.

 

Bagheri and Hagighi Movahed predicts the global adoption rate of IoE (Internet of Everything) in education will rise from less than 5% in 2013 to 32% by 2022. Critical decisions about the carbon footprint of the built environment must be made if we are to achieve Government net zero carbon targets, and smart technology has a huge role to play in this.