General Election 2017: Time to prioritise teacher wellbeing

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
Image: iStock

Politicians love to tell us how much they value education and our teachers. With the General Election campaign underway, the time has come for them to prove it, says Julian Stanley

Never has the mental health and wellbeing of teachers been higher on the agenda.

And never has it been more urgent for every political party, during this General Election campaign, to clearly set out its stall as to how it will help protect and support teacher wellbeing if elected.

If education really is a clear priority, the politicians who form our next government must move from “hearing” our concerns to actually addressing the crisis.

They must take clear steps to reduce workload, instil the importance of a healthy workforce in adults and children alike, and stem the real and potential loss of deeply committed professionals at every stage of their career.

Before the noise of the General Election campaign began, the consequences of the growing pressures on teachers was coming through loud and clear with the latest raft of evidence.

During the recent teaching union conference season, the NASUWT published a survey showing that current pressures are having an adverse effect on the wellbeing of 83 per cent of the teaching workforce, with six in 10 teachers, according to the union’s research, saying that their job had had a negative impact on their mental health in the past year; 68 per cent said that the role prevented them from giving adequate time to their partners, family and friends.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Teachers warned that according to its research half of young teachers are considering leaving the profession as a result of excessive workload and increased accountability.

During her conference address meanwhile, the president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Shelagh Hirst, spoke of the “personal cost” she often hears of an “unworkable system”.

These findings are certainly borne out by our own evidence and research. For example, our YouGov survey earlier this spring identified workload as the biggest factor for teachers thinking of leaving and 77 per cent of teachers reported suffering from stress in our last annual health survey.

This is also what we hear from the teachers and other education professionals we speak to and support every day. These aren’t “moaners”, but professionals telling us they can’t take any more, physically or mentally.

Many callers to our confidential helpline get in touch when they are suffering from the consequences of stress, many unable to sleep and feeling absolutely desperate because things have been building up for quite some time.

But as Anna, one of our senior counsellors has observed: “When other people in other professions get to the point of feeling so unwell physically and mentally due to prolonged stress, they go to the doctor and take their advice about taking a break from work.

“However, it is striking that we find that teachers, who may have had that conversation with their doctor, continue to work as they are so dedicated to their students and their colleagues.”

When 12-hour days (and more) take their physical and mental toll in a uniquely stressful environment, how can we expect teachers to protect and promote good mental health and wellbeing to the next generation in the classroom?

Many heads and senior leaders, under massive pressure themselves, have taken decisive action to lead from the front, recognising unrealistic expectations and finding practical solutions to alleviate their own and their workforce’s stress, helping to create a more positive whole-school culture.

Some schools we are working with, including a forward-thinking multi-academy trust with schools in the East of England, are now including a personal responsibility for staff wellbeing into all senior level job descriptions. There is a recognition and understanding that staff need to be coached and supported to deliver their best without compromising their wellbeing.

Working to support each other, reflecting the more creative approaches now taken in many industries, groups of school leaders are realising the importance of taking time out to talk through and problem-solve with peers in other schools – in turn finding solutions to relieve their own stress, to help build and sustain resilience, to examine how they can really make a difference to their team’s and their pupil’s experiences, and to rejuvenate enthusiasm for the job.

As for the longer-term, let’s ensure our potential political leaders and representatives get the message loud and clear. We are asking party candidates to sign up to our education manifesto setting out policies which will significantly improve the wellbeing of the education workforce during the next Parliamentary term. You can help by signing and sharing our manifesto and keep the conversation going by using our hashtag #health4edu on social media.

  • Julian Stanley is the CEO of the Education Support Partnership. For help or advice on any issue facing those working in education, contact the free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or visit www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk

Further information

For more on the Education Support Partnerships’s Education Manifesto for 2015-2020, visit http://bit.ly/2oIPC01


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