Education is relational in nature; it is a caring profession

Barnardo’s Scotland Policy Lead for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Nicki Lawrence, and Assistant Director for Attainment Maureen McAteer, set out why the use of Professional Supervision in Education is an important component of supporting the mental health and wellbeing of Education staff.

As schools start to wind up for the Christmas holidays, Barnardo’s Scotland Policy Lead for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Nicki Lawrence, and Assistant Director for Attainment Maureen McAteer, set out why the use of Professional Supervision in Education is an important component of supporting the mental health and wellbeing of Education staff.


Education is relational in nature; it is a caring profession and all professionals who work in schools want to do what’s best for pupils.

The idea that all behaviour is communication has permeated widely across the Education profession in Scotland and this is something to be welcomed. An increased understanding of the impact of childhood adversity and the need for a trauma-informed and responsive workforce are all welcome developments. Education staff are now more aware than ever of the crucial importance of relationships in helping children learn and thrive in school.

However, here at Barnardo’s Scotland we know from our work with children, young people and families that investing fully in children’s lives can be emotionally and psychologically draining, as well as uplifting and fulfilling when things are going well. Working in a relational way has a significant impact on staff.

We are currently working in partnership with over 400 schools in Scotland, across 13 Local Authority areas, and where we have Family Support Workers attached to schools they are noticing that Education staff are lacking in the kind of structured supports available to our workers. Reflective or Professional Supervision is a requirement in other health and social care settings and we believe teachers should have access to this too.

However, Supervision is not currently a requirement in Education and many staff will not receive any form of structured support for their own health and wellbeing to enable them to continue to support their pupils, “to fill up their own cup”. That’s why we want to see Supervision in Education considered seriously in Scotland. We recently ran a survey which received over 400 responses from those working in Education – overwhelmingly respondents supported the principle of Supervision in Education as a way to support their own mental health and wellbeing, and to reflect on the impact the work has on them.

We were also delighted to co-host a roundtable on this issue in November with our colleagues at Place2Be and other key stakeholders which was chaired by Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney MSP. We are very hopeful that progress can be made in ensuring that Education staff are getting the appropriate support for their own mental health and wellbeing – and we believe Supervision is an essential part of this.


You can read Barnardo’s Scotland’s discussion paper on the use of Supervision in Education here: barnardos.org.uk/supporting-mental-health-wellbeing-education-staff-through-professional-supervision-structures

When Nikki and Maureen joined in the discussions at our recent PINS: Health and Wellbeing at the heart of the educational experience event in November, a sketch artist captured their input. You can download their images by clicking on the below:


Twitter: @BarnardosScot

Back to school: ‘There are lots of feelings in your tummy’

As the school gates re-open, Children’s Parliament Co-director, Cathy McCulloch OBE, offers five questions to help with reflective practice and reminds us of the importance of staff-learner relationships.


For many children, the summer holidays are something to look forward to, a time filled with family and friends and lots of fun activities and free time. For other children, however, the summer holidays can be stressful; from a lack of structure, time spent with adults who have difficulties or anxieties of their own to not having enough to eat. Anxiety can also build at the prospect of the new school term; thinking about a new class, a new teacher or a move to another school, especially secondary school. Most children benefit from the better attention we give to transitions nowadays, but back at school, on day one, there will be children that need every staff member to be attentive and open to the behaviours that tell us, ‘I’m just not coping‘.  

Across Children’s Parliaments’ programmes, we acknowledge that some children struggle with school. One of our responsibilities is to capture and share their insight with educators. Some of the most powerful work children have produced is about going back to school and moving to secondary school.

There are those first day feelings: “I felt scared, shivery, worried”.  These feelings can change quite quickly: “By the end of the first day I felt more confident about myself”.  There are worries about coping with new systems and ways of doing things: “Getting to classes is really hard”; “I take too long to get ready after PE so I get into trouble”“It’s hard to fit in and be the same as everyone”. For some children, peer relationships in the new bigger secondary school environment are shaped by the fear and experience of violence: “There are so many fights”; “They are not quick enough at stopping fights. There needs to be more staff in the corridors”. 

There seems to be a growing awareness of the centrality of health and wellbeing to learning. At Children’s Parliament, we would wrap this in a view of childhood and education that is rooted in children’s human rights and the core ideas of human dignity, empathy, kindness, trust, and love. If there was ever a time when the mantra it’s all about relationships rings true it is in those first few days back at school: “It can be fun, but it depends on the teacher”. 

There is no denying that back to school might have some feeling of anxiety or dread for the educator too. High demands, feelings of stress, a real need to build personal and professional supports to sustain energy across the year. But as you learn to look after yourself, if you can, take some time to think about these questions.  Make it personal, and even better, do this with your colleagues.  

  • How do I pay attention to what might not be going well for a child? 
  • Do I know what is going well for each child, so that we can build on interests and achievements? 
  • What kind of adult do I need to be, so that a child can come to me with a question or a worry? 
  • Do I recognise and address the emotions or worries that change may bring about for the child? 
  • How is my professional practice informed by non-punitive, positive and restorative approaches? 

All the best to every educator out there. What you do every day matters.  


For more information about children’s views of life at school, Children’s Parliament has many helpful resources online that collate children’s voices from across Scotland, here are links to just a few:

Life at school (Blog post)

What kind of Scotland? Children influencing Scotland’s future (Publication)

Children’s Parliament Investigates Learning (Project)


Twitter: @Creative_Voices