Supporting our teachers: Ministers must do better

Written by: Sophie Howells | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

As the pandemic continues, teachers are reaching breaking point. Ministers must do better, and that begins with making guidance clearer and giving schools the time and resources required. Sophie Howells explains

Our recently published report, Covid and the classroom, looks at working in education during the coronavirus pandemic and the impact on education professionals’ mental health and wellbeing. It revealed a profession struggling in specific ways during the crisis.

The report was based on YouGov research commissioned by Education Support and involving 3,034 education professionals. Some key themes emerged from the findings.

Of the many issues facing school staff during the pandemic, a lack of timely government guidance has presented a major challenge – 67 per cent of school leaders told us that this had been a particular difficulty for them since schools physically closed to the majority of children during the lockdown.

And there is no sign that the situation has improved since lockdown ended and the new term began, with school leaders still crying out for information – especially surround examinations next year. One senior leader told us: “We need clear, non- contradictory guidance from the Department for Education and education authority exam boards as to what is expected next year.”

Positive appreciation within the school community came through strongly in the survey results. Sixty-one per cent of teachers said they felt appreciated by the parents and carers of the pupils and students they have been supporting, 81 per cent by colleagues, and 72 per cent by their senior leadership team.

One deputy head of department in a secondary school told us: “I have valued the support and hard work of my immediate team; their goodwill and willingness to contribute and work hard in trying circumstances.”

However, when asked if they felt appreciated by the government, only 15 per cent responded positively.

It is perhaps unsurprising then that half of the teachers who responded (52 per cent) and 60 per cent of the headteachers told us that their mental health had declined during the first stage of the coronavirus pandemic. The majority said that they relied upon the support of family and friends to help cope with the pandemic. Worryingly, a quarter (24 per cent) told us that they had not sought or accessed any support at all.

As schools now find their way through this extraordinary autumn term, all these issues are being exacerbated by the stress and anxiety caused by the lack of a reliable Covid testing system, as SecEd has reported upon recently.

Schools are left to pick up the pieces when, often with very little notice, staff and students are forced to self-isolate and wait for a golden ticket for a test appointment. Delays to test results are also not helping matters.

At a time when schools are focused on supporting children and young people to re-engage with school life, to recover learning and re-establish relationships, our report finds that they feel poorly supported and feel their efforts to adapt and change in extraordinary circumstances remain largely unappreciated outside of the school community. Furthermore, schools have not been adequately resourced to do what has been asked of them, leading to further pressure being heaped onto schools.

Can school staff continue to pick up the pieces like this? It may be okay in the short term, but it is hardly the ground on which to build a solid recovery. If we are reckless with the health of the education workforce, we cannot expect children and young people to have the support they need to get through this difficult year.

There is a clear message in our report from those working in schools: involve us in decision-making, provide better and clearer guidance, and give us the time and resources required to support children and young people.

The education workforce has shown itself to be incredibly purposeful and adaptable during the pandemic. As a matter of urgency, we need to see the government demonstrate respect, value and trust in the profession to help boost morale.

These findings will form part of Education Support’s upcoming Teacher Wellbeing Index 2020, which will be published towards the end of the year.

If you are struggling yourself, don’t forget that you can call the Education Support confidential helpline and speak to a trained counsellor. It is available to all 24/7 on 08000 562 561.

  • Sophie Howells is from Education Support, a UK charity dedicated to improving the mental health and wellbeing of the education workforce. Read her previous articles for SecEd via

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