A third of staff are stressed: What can be done?

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
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This year’s Teacher Wellbeing Index highlights continuing problems with stress. Julian Stanley looks at the findings and asks what government should be doing...

“Anxiety hit as I walked into my classroom one morning – anxiety so crippling I had to turn and walk-out. A member of staff caught me in the corridor, asked if I was okay and that was it. Tears streamed down my face, snot poured from my nose, words failed to leave my mouth. The deputy head came to see me to ask what was wrong. I couldn’t explain but I couldn’t be there.
“The job had worn me down, the emotional toll broke me. Eventually I was sent home but I don’t remember how I got there. Did I get a lift? Did I get the bus? Did my sister pick me up? I don’t recall. I’m not the only teacher that’s broken down. And I’m not the only one now needing to take medication.”

Victoria, secondary school teacher

The findings of this year’s Teacher Wellbeing Index – published by the Education Support Partnership – are alarming. A third of education professionals said their job had made them feel stressed most or all of the time (compared to 18 per cent of the UK workforce overall).

A staggering 57 per cent have considered leaving within the past two years because of health pressures and some teachers are already voting with their feet with one in three quitting in the first five years. Professionals working in secondary schools reported higher levels of stress than all those working in other sectors.

While the story above is sadly all too common, there are also many positives that should be highlighted in the Index. Most educational professionals told us they are broadly satisfied and happy with their lives. In the secondary sector comments included “every day is different; it’s never boring” and “I find it so rewarding to teach the next generation”.

But the paperwork, rapid changes, pressure to get results, marking and workload are among the issues secondary teachers dislike. Teaching children isn’t the problem in many cases – it’s the bits around it that seem to cause most of the problems.

We broke the Index into four parts. Section one builds a picture of teaching overall. It reveals:

  • Sixty-seven per cent of teachers are stressed at work.
  • Twenty-nine per cent work more than 51 hours a week – approximately 14 hours more per week than the national average (which is 37.4 hours according to the Office for National Statistics).
  • Seventy-four per cent say the inability to switch off from work is the major contributing factor to a negative work/life balance.

In section two, we looked at mental health at an individual level:

  • Thirty-one per cent had experienced a mental health issue in the past year.
  • Seventy-two per cent say workload is the main reason for considering leaving their jobs.
  • Around 40 per cent of education professionals’ symptoms could be signs of anxiety or depression.

Section three then examines the impact of an individual’s mental health and wellbeing on others within education.

  • Fifty-six per cent of school leaders (and 49 per cent of teachers) believe their personal relationships have suffered as a result of psychological, physical or behavioural problems at work.
  • Forty-seven per cent of educators with mental health symptoms were away for a month or more over the academic year.
  • Forty per cent of senior leaders and teachers believe having time off work due to mental health symptoms will have a negative impact on their students’ studies.

And section four discusses mental health and wellbeing guidance available to educators.

  • Sixth-five per cent say they wouldn’t feel confident in disclosing mental health problems or unmanageable stress to their employer.
  • Thirty-six per cent say they have no form of mental health support at work.
  • Sixty-four per cent of schools do not regularly survey their staff to gauge employee wellbeing.
  • Seventy-four per cent say they don’t have enough guidance about mental health at work.

What’s to be done?

We are calling for the introduction of the following six measures to boost wellbeing in education.

  • Mandatory provision of personal mental health and wellbeing guidance within initial teacher training.
  • Regulators to prioritise staff wellbeing in their assessments and measure this against an evidenced-based framework.
  • Statutory annual staff surveys in all schools and colleges, with senior leaders acting on the issues identified in an open and transparent way.
  • Increased awareness, knowledge and signposting to external support services.
  • Access to an employee assistance programme for all staff in schools and colleges.
  • Access to facilitated peer support programmes for all senior leaders in schools and colleges.

A wellbeing policy is not enough. It has to be more than something written down, a nice thing to have. Right now there’s a genuine risk that teaching is being turned into an unmanageable task and this could alienate those already in the profession or those thinking about entering. We need to recruit more teachers and we need to persuade those already there to stay.

That’s why we’ll be working closely with government and key stakeholders to push for improvements that deliver real change and have a lasting impact.

Last month we took part in a discussion run by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the teaching profession and ran a roundtable of stakeholders to discuss how best to move forward. We will continue lobbying using evidence from our Teacher Wellbeing Index to bring about the change we’d all like to see in the profession.

  • Julian Stanley is the CEO of the Education Support Partnership.

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