Concern over ‘grim statistics’ on teacher mental health

Written by: Sam Phipps | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Scottish education secretary John Swinney has admitted the number of teachers struggling with their mental health is “extremely worrying”.

Almost two-thirds of teachers in a survey published by the NASUWT in May said their mental health had been affected because of their work in the last year. More than three quarters said workplace stress had risen.

According to the research, 75 per cent have been affected by anxiety in the last 12 months because of their job, with 83 per cent suffering sleeping problems. Just over a fifth said they were drinking more alcohol, almost one in 10 has seen a relationship break down and two per cent have self-harmed.

Questioned about the findings in the Scottish Parliament, Mr Swinney said: “No teacher should feel like their job adversely affects their mental health. Wellbeing, both mental and physical, affects us all and should be rightly taken seriously. These survey findings are therefore extremely worrying. Local authorities as employers have a duty of care for all of their staff, including teachers.”

Mr Swinney said the Scottish government and councils were already taking action to support staff wellbeing by tackling workload and trying to improve recruitment and retention rates. He cited the pay and workload deal struck with unions earlier this year.

However, Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale told Mr Swinney that the survey was “full of grim statistics for the government”, pointing to the fact that 54 per cent of teachers said job satisfaction was in decline and 55 per cent have considered leaving the profession.

The survey also found that almost half of Scottish teachers had seen a medical professional in the last year as a result of stress and workload.

Jane Peckham, NASUWT’s national official for Scotland, said: “Too many schools have become toxic environments to work in, where constant pressure, bullying and unsustainable workloads are making teachers mentally and physically ill. The solutions to begin to alleviate this issue are there but they need statutory force and concerted attention from ministers and employers to make sure teachers feel empowered and supported at work.”

A sharp rise in staff absences caused by mental ill health has highlighted the scale of the problem, while also compounding it – by adding to the strain on other teachers and pupils.

Teaching staff absences increased to 87,066 lost days last year from 75,281 in 2015/16, a rise of 16 per cent in three years, according to figures obtained by the Scottish Lib Dems. Support staff absences rose by 35 per cent, to 58,300 lost days last year from 43,307 in the same period.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) has called for a return to a full hour for lunch breaks, saying this would help restore the vital role of the staffroom.

Catherine Nicol, from the SSTA’s salaries and conditions of service committee, said the gradual reduction of lunch breaks to 40 or even 35 minutes, was harmful: “People don’t realise but the staffroom was once a place where you could catch up with colleagues, share family news, but also discuss what was happening in the classroom. That means we don’t have time to develop fully supportive relationships across the school where more experienced staff can pass on advice to younger colleagues.”


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