In this week’s Guardian there’s a damning article on the wellbeing of teachers in England. It reported that there were 3,750 cases of long-term sickness absence caused by stress last year, and that one in 83 teachers spent more than a month off work in 2016/2017.
These figures are from a survey carried out by the Liberal Democrats. Only 82 of the 152 local authorities responded (53 of them said they didn’t hold information on staff absences which is another story in itself). The true figures are likely to be higher than 3,750. Add to that the number of people who have left the profession due to stress and the number of unreported cases or those who are too frightened of the stigma associated with mental wellbeing to actually admit that stress is the reason for their absence, and you can see the figure escalating further.
Add to this the number of teachers who somehow manage a return to work – often out of fear and/or duty rather than wellness – and you have a horrendous figure that is worthy of headline news every day of the week.
This is a catastrophic indictment on the path that education has taken over the past few decades, with a disregard for the enjoyment and delight in teaching and learning and an emphasis on data, teaching to the test (yes, we all know it happens) and a constant accountability system that is punitive rather than supportive.
No wonder teachers are leaving in droves and these awful statistics are but the tip of the iceberg.
Dr. Mary Bousted, joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, summed up the situation succinctly:
“Classroom teachers routinely work 55 hours or over per week. School leaders routinely work over 60 hours a week. And it is not just the amount of work. It is the pressures of a punitive and non-productive accountability system.”
She continued to remind us all that English children are some of the “most over-assessed in the modern world”.
(To what avail? – certainly, this isn’t helping as far as OECD reports are concerned, and that statistics on social equity are horrific).
And what of the impact on our children and young people of this sorry state of teachers’ mental health? It’s huge. Disturbance to their education is one thing, but on a human, emotionally intelligent level, children and young people are incredibly affected by the adults in their lives being stressed out to the point of incapacity.
We think it’s worth highlighting some of the comments found below the line on the Guardian website to reiterate the extent of the massive problem of teachers’ mental health. Whilst some schools are adopting some good practices to combat stress -including mindfulness, providing additional non-contact time, mentoring and the like – it’s not enough. These are mere fingers in the dam. There needs to be systemic change that includes getting rid of performance tables and unnecessary high-stakes exams that thwart the real purposes of education. We must offer teachers a sensible work-life balance that enables them to do the job they love.
Please add your own comments about life in school to this post.
We’ll leave the final comment to lyreah who has sadly left teaching. This is the reality. We are losing dedicated, innovative and enthusiastic teachers because of the ridiculous expectations placed upon them.
Good luck lyreah in your new job. Let’s hope that education might be worth returning to at some point.
Thanks for all the interesting and extensive replies to my initial comment, which I haven’t been able to read until now (partly due to my new job, partly because, as I can now switch off from said job at 5.30, I had time to meet some friends for a midweek dinner and a pub quiz).
I’m glad to see how many teachers understand the punishing reality of a teacher’s daily routine, and the insidious effects over time. I am still honestly conflicted about having left the profession, for it was one I genuinely loved. I love the honesty, humour and idealism of young people, and loved broadening their horizons to introduce them to great literature and to new perspectives and ideas. I loved the uncertain smile that would light up a child’s face when they did something they had previously thought impossible, and the pride I would feel in seeing children grow and develop into fantastic young people. I honestly miss the job every single day; it’s my vocation.
But, like many of you, I faced the question – at what point does the sacrifice become too much? I’d put up with the workload, with the constant monitoring and changing directives and specs from the DfE, with the fact that every Friday I collapsed onto the sofa with sheer exhaustion. But it’s only sustainable for so long. I had no time to even read for pleasure myself, no time to nurture friendships and relationships, no time to do much at all other than be a ‘teacher.’ What sort of role model is that for our young people? Now, I’m working in the private sector for the same pay: sure, the holidays aren’t as generous, but I’m in control of my time and workload, and have time to be a rounded, interesting human. I would love to go back, but until the profession changes, I won’t be risking it:
And for all those competing to have it worse than teachers: if that’s genuinely the case, you should be organising to improve your own terms and conditions. However passionate you are about your job, life is far, far too short to let it leave you a husk of a person. We all deserve better than that.
It really, really shouldn’t be a competition to see who’s the hardest done by. Nobody is saying that only teachers work long hours, although I do think that there are certain things about teaching, such as the lack of control over workload, constant monitoring, and high accountability, that make teachers particularly susceptible to burnout. That’s also the case in other parts of the public sector, and I’m sure in much of the private sector too, but it’s certainly not something to celebrate or boast about.
There’s all of this criticism as to what schools and teachers are having to contend with. There’s a lot to be distraught about. Having said that, there’s so many people out there continuing to work hard to provide a positive educational experience for our children, who understand the vitality and enjoyment of teaching and learning, and who strive daily to give our youngsters the best educational experience possible.