Many of you working in the classroom day after day know how vital it is to keep yourself healthy and in top shape. The sad truth however is that teachers’ wellbeing isn’t taken seriously enough by every governing body or headteacher.
Just 31 per cent of the general British public think teachers are currently working too hard, according to a YouGov poll we recently commissioned, while 18 per cent went as far to say that they think teachers aren’t working hard enough!
This just doesn’t add up with the results of our health survey, which found in October last year that 88 per cent of people working in education experienced stress in the previous two years.
The hardest thing about supporting teachers’ health and wellbeing isn’t knowing how to do it. It is knowing how to make the case for it. We must get the message out there that we need teachers who are healthy in mind, body and spirit and who are not weighed down by bureaucratic burdens that go way beyond the unassailable need for accountability.
Changing your own personal practice by taking control of your own health and wellbeing is extremely important, but we need to be effective at making a wider case for change if we want to have an education workforce that isn’t stressed, anxious, depressed and determined to leave the sector altogether. The cost of sickness absence to the state is rocketing and at a time of austerity this should be ringing alarm bells.
How else can the case for teacher wellbeing be made? By thinking about results. Our literature review with The Work Foundation, part of Lancaster University, summarises emerging evidence that links teacher wellbeing to pupil outcomes.
While more research is needed, the existing evidence indicates a possible relationship. This seems logical to those working at the chalkface. Higher staff morale and better mental and physical health helps lower teacher sickness absence and causes less disruption to lessons and leads to improved teaching and learning with better student results.
Second, besides results, teacher wellbeing may have an impact on pupils in another important way. According to the British Journal of Psychiatry, perhaps half of all adult mental health disorders begin in adolescence. Education secretary Nicky Morgan spoke about this recently, saying “it is often teachers who first spot when something is wrong”. True as this is, surely it is tougher for teachers to spot issues if they are suffering with similar issues themselves.
Third is money, money, money. Schools are finding themselves spending more and more on supply cover, insurance premiums to pay for it and recruitment. Think how much could be saved if staff were healthier, happier and fewer NQTs were inclined to leave in such large numbers. The likes of Emil Jackson, a consultant psychotherapist, and others have written persuasively about how their interventions – such as guided workplace discussion groups about their pupils – have encouraged staff to reflect on and improve their practice, rather than despair and resign over recurring social and behavioural issues.
Party manifestos suggest that, whoever resides in Downing Street after May 7, we’ll see a real-terms freeze in the education budget at best, so governors and school leaders should focus on wellbeing initiatives that will help to cut costs.
Finally, there is always the moral case. At the Teacher Support Network, we work on the principle that it is entirely wrong that people should have to unduly suffer while working in a sector responsible for nurturing the talents and skills of future generations. Teachers are, after all, the most valuable resource in any school.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).