“If spring term is a bitch, autumn term is the NQT slayer.”
So says English teacher Julia Toppin, who herself struggled as a newly qualified teacher (NQT) 10 years ago and is now sharing her tips for NQT survival on Twitter.
She says the pressure points in the autumn term are week three, half term and the Christmas holiday.
Exclusive: Mental health ‘crisis’ for trainee teachers
"Week three is when NQTs start to feel tired," she says.
"They aren’t used to how full-on and rigorous teaching is, and because they're tired they get down and because people don’t talk to each other they probably think 'it’s just me'.
“Half term is normally when you get your first marking deadline, and some NQTs will spend their whole week off marking or planning so they don’t have a break, while others will not do anything and then be faced with insurmountable pressure.
“The Christmas holiday is the biggest quitting point. A lot of NQTs will go home and be among their families, and then they have the horror of thinking that they have to get ready for another term of what they’ve just experienced, and it’s too much and they just drop out.”
Julia, 48, who tweets under the handle @Miss_Toppin, said she herself dropped out of her very first school after the autumn term following poor experiences with behaviour, but was lucky enough to find another school where she could continue her training.
She added: “NQTs struggle with behaviour. They’ve probably not been given any challenging classes before and they’ve not got enough of a toolkit to handle it.
“You have to be consistent with behaviour and that can be harder to do when you’re tired. The more challenging classes can run all over an NQT.”
One in seven NQTs who qualified in 2017 had dropped out by the following year, according to the Department for Education.
The DfE says its teacher recruitment and retention strategy focuses on the importance of "developing supportive cultures", and that schools have a legal duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees, which includes minimising the risk of stress-related illness.
It says it is already taking action to strengthen work-life balance and wellbeing, such as reducing workload, supporting early-career teachers, promoting flexible working and tackling accountability pressures as well as supporting schools to deal with behaviour management.
It says its workload reduction toolkit has been collectively downloaded over 158,000 times since its publication last July.
The Education Support Partnership, a charity that runs a helpline for teachers suffering from mental health issues, says stress builds in teachers during the autumn term.
The charity’s head of policy Richard Faulkner said: “Over the past few years, we’ve seen a steady growth in cases managed through the helpline as the autumn term progresses.
“This suggests a build-up of stress during the period, with the majority accessing support at a late stage.
“We would actively encourage any teacher who is feeling overwhelmed, fearful, worried or anxious to call us at the earliest opportunity, no matter how insignificant they think their symptoms may be.
“This is particularly relevant for those just starting out in the profession, at what can be an exciting but also demanding time.”
Anyone working in education can access free and confidential 24/7 professional support from the charity on 08000 562 561 or by texting on 07909 341229.
For more information, visit edsupport.org.uk.
How to save a teacher: In the 20 September issue of Tes magazine, there is an in-depth look at the international research around why teachers leave in the first five years of the profession. Written by teacher Jamie Thom, it identifies three areas schools have to get right if we are to stop huge numbers of new recruits leaving. You can subscribe to Tes magazine here