Ilkley Grammar head appeals for funds to aid staff ‘wellbeing’

Parents in one of Yorkshire’s most affluent towns have been asked to help fund a “wellbeing week” for their children’s teachers.

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The head of Ilkley Grammar School has written to families appealing for donations in the form of discount vouchers for local business, and similar benefits.

The request comes two years after the school asked parents to donate up to £180 a year to help offset the effect of budget cuts.

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Its wellbeing week, which begins on May 20, is thought to be the first of its kind in the country. It has been organised amid concerns about stress and mental health issues among teachers which are said to have accounted for 1.3m days off nationally over the past four years.

In her letter to parents, seen by The Yorkshire Post, the school’s head, Helen Williams, asks for gifts to support the initiative. She tells families that donations could take the form of “discount vouchers for your business, goods and services e.g. ironing service, car valeting, merchandise or anything at all that would provide a little boost to a member of staff”.

Explaining the purpose of the wellbeing week, she says the school is running “a programme of in-school and out-of-school activities to support all staff in our drive to ensure we make their wellbeing a priority so they, in turn, can continue to fully support our students and the school community as a whole”.

There have been increasing concerns surrounding anxiety levels in schools. Last year, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, warned of an “epidemic of stress” as teachers were signed off on long-term sick leave because of pressure of work and mental illness.

Figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats revealed that one in 83 teachers had spent more than a month off work in 2016-17.

A primary school in south London enrolled its staff on a 10-week wellbeing programme to improve their physical and mental health.

Susie Leach, operations manager at Ilkley Grammar, said the school already had a “wellbeing Wednesday” aimed at staff, once every half term.

“We would be trilled to hear we were the first with this new initiative. It’s definitely the right thing to do,” she said.

“The issues we have are national ones. But the teachers have a really challenging job, and that comes across in terms of workload and stress levels.”

Asked about the response to the letter, she said: “It’s early days but it’s been well responded to. It can be mixed.”

The school, an academy rated “excellent” by Ofsted, is one of the most heavily oversubscribed in its area, and has a history of asking parents to contribute financially to their children’s education. Two years ago, Ms Williams told them that changes to funding were making the task of providing the highest level of education “increasingly difficult”.

She asked parents to donate voluntarily by a single payment or regular contributions ranging from £60 to £180 a year.