Are you happy, Steve?


After a raft of recent research into the state of education and the teaching workforce, Julian Stanley asks if teachers really are happy.

Are you happy? I ask because the results of a new study suggest you probably are. In fact, this study goes further and argues that teachers are the happiest workers in Britain.

Eight-three per cent of teachers said they “loved their job” in a survey of 2,000 professionals, commissioned by Surbiton High School, a private school, beating secretaries, engineers, accountants, lawyers and tradesmen among others to the top spot. Teachers listed holiday allowance, relationships with colleagues and the environment in which they worked as reasons for why they were so happy.

We too asked teachers at a recent workshop we held to raise their hand if, like the research, they loved their job. Surprisingly (or perhaps not so) almost every hand in the room – around 60 – went up. Likewise, when describing the kinds of people that contact our support lines, our counsellors often will refer to teachers as “passionate professionals, who really love the kids they are working with”. Indeed, I suspect that if you took a straw poll of your colleagues right now, they too would raise their hand.

If you have colleagues named Steve or Lesley, then they are statistically, even more likely to raise their hands. This is because, according to research from Cadbury’s Heroes, men called Steve and women called Lesley are the most content. Again, the research of 2,000 people found that teachers are the happiest. Unfortunately, your colleagues Emma and Ian, the figures say, will not be quite so happy.

Steve is, it seems, likely to be happier than Lesley, as women were found not to be as happy as men, and even happier if Steve is in his 60s, White and married.  Steve’s happiness increases again if he wears glasses, has blue eyes and has lighter hair. Apparently, the lighter the hair, the happier you are.

Steve’s mood will also vary depending on where he lives. Steves in Southampton, Cardiff and Edinburgh are more cheerful, the research explains, than those in Liverpool, Newcastle and Norwich.

I wonder if you recognise yourself or your “Steve colleagues” in these descriptions. I mention them partly in jest, but partly because they raise bigger questions – principally: how come these teachers, these Steves, are so different to the ones that we normally see portrayed in the media or cited in research?

In the past six months alone, research has told us that the number of teachers leaving state schools is up by almost a fifth in one year (December), teacher morale is dangerously low (January), teachers won record amounts of compensation after suffering accidents or injury (March), teachers work an extra 11 hours’ unpaid a week (April), and school inspections are deeply toxic (May).

Many headlines recently have been devoted to the inquest into the death of headteacher Helen Mann, who was found hanged in her office in November. Her inquest recorded a verdict of suicide. Much of the coverage focused on the fact that Mrs Mann had been at the school for less than six months, had been off work previously for four weeks with work-related stress, and had taken an overdose following a fitness to work interview. It is believed that the headteacher was concerned the school would lose its “outstanding” rating from Ofsted and was dealing with an allegation of unfair dismissal.

We have written about these kinds of tragic cases before, and thankfully they are rare. Office of National Statistics figures show that there were 42 teacher suicides in 2010 and 57 in 2011. We, of course, would argue these are still too many.

So which is the true reflection of teaching? The “happy Steves” or the demoralised teachers ready to quit? I imagine that it is a mixture of the two, or to give the full description that our support line counselllors use: teachers are intelligent, capable, competent, resilient, passionate professionals, who really love the kids they are working with, but what they are dealing with on a day-to-day basis is not what they signed up for.

The truth is it is hard to say how happy teachers are. The real worry is, if we in education cannot tell, how on earth do we expect those outside of the profession to know?

  • Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).


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