- This HEPI blog was kindly authored by Jessica Hayball, Training Officer at the University of Bath.
- Don’t forget to sign up for the 2023 HEPI Annual Conference, taking place NEXT WEEK (on 22 June) in central London. The details are here.
Among national discussions around student mental health, the University of Bath is actively working and continuously evaluating its support for students, aiming to embed a whole-university culture of care. My role as Training Officer in Pastoral Support, has been created to support this endeavour, delivering sessions focused primarily on the support provided to students by Personal Tutors and Doctoral Supervisors, for whom the training is mandatory.
With inconsistencies apparent in both staff confidence when addressing non-academic disclosures, and student satisfaction in receiving tutor/supervisor support, my training aims to improve the experience for all. We want staff to feel secure in their responsibilities, in the guidance they give, and their knowledge of the signposting opportunities available. We want students in the first instance to know that their tutor/supervisor is someone they can turn to when facing non-academic challenges, and most pertinent, to receive a positive and impactful response. As Yale put it in 2019:
Poor personal tutoring is worse than not providing personal tutoring at all, leading to students experiencing strong negative emotions of anger, internalised attributions and a move towards re-evaluating their decision to go to university.
With staff wellbeing an equally important factor, alongside increasing confidence in their pastoral responsibilities, the training also puts a focus on the various avenues of support available to staff within the university.
On joining the University of Bath in 2022, I was pleased to witness such an emphasis on student experience. Pitching wellbeing and a student’s overall experience at university, as equal in importance to the academic standards they are to receive, was a prevalent message delivered to all new staff across departments. Studies show that student mental health, and struggles with such, is something that impacts almost 60% of students (Student Minds, 2022), and within a wider society where numerous campaigns are urging people to talk about their mental health, students are arguably leading the way. Colleagues within the HE sectors report an increase in the number of students turning to them for support with mental health concerns, and whilst this is positive, we need to ensure our staff are equipped and confident in providing such support. Making training in the provision of pastoral support mandatory for tutors and supervisors, and recommended for all student-facing staff, aims to achieve consistency in this area.
The session itself provides an opportunity to focus on factors that may impact student mental health, and how we as staff might respond to disclosures of struggles. It allows colleagues to step away from academic responsibilities and to consider their role in the wellbeing of their tutees. Additionally, it facilitates peer discussion and the opportunity to share experiences and best practice across departments, along with information and clarity on the relevant support services available to students. In completing the training, colleagues are supporting our Student Experience Strategy, part of which is making sure students who come to the University of Bath know and feel the importance that is placed on their wellbeing. Of staff who have completed the Pastoral Support training to date, 100% would recommend the session to a colleague, with many voicing that shining a light on this particular area of their tutoring and/or supervisory role has been a long time coming.