Former Daventry headteacher spearheads nationwide wellbeing project for teachers

This month’s return to the classroom holds extra significance for a former Daventry headteacher, who fears the pressures of a pandemic could bring an already struggling profession nearer to breaking point.

Improving mental health in education is central to the mission of Suneta Bagri, who is striving to transform the wellbeing culture in schools, a subject that has never been in sharper focus.

In 2016, Suneta was executive principal at Newnham and Welton Academies School, in Daventry, as part of a five-year run of headships at schools, including in Birmingham and Coventry.

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Now she is the founder of the new Every Teacher Matters Project and Network, which delivers mental health first aid training and coaching in educational settings.

Established under her business umbrella of Coventry-based Cultivate Coaching & Consultancy, the network marks a personal milestone for the passionate campaigner.

And it comes at a time of reported ‘crisis’ in a profession which is said to be losing nearly half of its new cohorts within the first three years of qualifying.

Suneta, 43, said: “The profession was in crisis even before Covid came along, but now there are extra concerns for teachers to contend with, including the fear of contracting the virus, the pressures of having to work in bubbles and the huge emphasis on risk assessments. That’s all many are able to focus on at the moment, whereas usually they’d be focusing on the teaching and the learning aspects.

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Teachers are burning out due to a number of reasons – workload, lack of autonomy, lack of control and a narrow curriculum which relies completely on rote learning of facts. It’s all about gearing them [pupils] up to pass tests rather than take part in deep, rich learning experiences which serve them for life.

Schools have become more like exam factories, ramming maths, English and science down their throats while squeezing out other creative arts and getting children to achieve certain thresholds. It doesn’t matter, if in the process, that holistic character of education is lost.

“Politicians are making decisions when they have absolutely no clue about what actually goes on within a school environment.”

The youngest of three siblings born to immigrant parents, Suneta said: “My passion for learning developed at a young age. My parents’ priority was to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, meaning that getting a good education was secondary.

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“My father’s aspiration for me was to find me a suitor when I turned 18. His wish? That I work in a bank.

“I fought hard for the privilege of an education and discovered a love of learning that has carried me through my entire life.”

Now her focus is on her Every Teacher Matters Project which is already inspiring educators and entrepreneurs alike. Suneta is now an advisor for the Mental Health Foundation as well as a Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching and has earned recognition in several national awards programmes.

“I want teacher wellbeing to become high profile and I want to be able to make systemic changes that make a difference to initial teacher training,” she said.

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