Exclusive: Half of teachers go to work unwell

Teachers feel ‘a huge amount of guilt and a sense of shame in taking time off’ because of potential impact, says charity

Sick school teacher

Almost half of classroom teachers in England "always" feel compelled to go to work even when feeling unwell  –  compared with just a quarter of workers in other industries, a new study shows.

The survey, of 1,549 primary and secondary teachers and school leaders in England, also reveals that 57 per cent of senior leaders would always come into work when feeling ill, and 42 per cent of staff working in other roles (such as TAs and learning mentors) would do the same.

This compares with just 16 per cent of staff in the medical and health services sector who said they would come into work when feeling unwell through similar low-level ailments, and 19 per cent of workers in the IT and telecommunications sector.


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Sinéad Mc Brearty, chief executive of the Education Support Partnership charity, which carried out the survey in partnership with YouGov, urged teachers to practice “self-care” and called on schools to remove the stigma around sickness absence.

The stigma around teacher sickness

She said: "We know that presenteeism is a very real issue in our schools. If we don’t tackle this as a priority, we can expect the pressing issue of long-term sickness rates amongst teachers to rise over the coming years.

“Whilst knowledge around the root causes of this within schools is still emerging, anecdotally we know that teachers feel a huge amount of guilt and a sense of shame in taking time off, due to the impact they believe this has on their pupils and colleagues.

“It’s crucial, for the sake of individuals and their ability to function and deliver as high-performing professionals, teachers are encouraged to practise self-care.

“In order to facilitate this self-care, it is imperative that schools have the culture and resources to break down outdated perceptions and to remove the stigma that currently exists.”

A key finding in the report was that 48 per cent of teachers said they would always come into work when feeling unwell compared with an average of 26 per cent of workers in other sectors.

Regionally, the highest levels of school teachers who always went to work when unwell was in the West Midlands (57 per cent), followed by the North West and the South East (both at 53 per cent).  

The Education Support Partnership also said that poor wellbeing and high depressive symptoms were both associated with presenteeism among teachers (as cited in a study by Gandy et al (2014)).

The charity is funded by donations from retired teachers and lecturers.

It runs a helpline for school staff suffering mental health issues, which is 0800 0562561.

 

 

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