Exclusive: Mental health ‘crisis’ for trainee teachers

National charity opens up its crisis helpline to ‘anyone in training’ as experts warn of exhaustion ‘creeping up’ on trainee teachers

trainee mental health

A charity has warned of a mental health “crisis” among trainee teachers which could have an impact on the wellbeing of children and young people in their care.

Tes can reveal that the Education Support Partnership (ESP) – which assists teachers with mental health issues and those in financial crisis through a telephone hotline – has been prompted to open up the line to “anyone in training”.

Charity chief executive Sinéad McBrearty told Tes: “Our research points towards newly qualified teachers and those working in education for under five years being 29 per cent more likely to experience a mental health problem compared to their colleagues. 

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"It’s a gap that has widened in recent years, alongside symptoms such as panic attacks, insomnia, tearfulness and difficulty concentrating. As a charity, we’re particularly concerned about the mental health of this group.

“Working to support and build the resilience of those entering the profession is essential when so many are considering leaving teaching. The potential impact on children and young people of this crisis should not be underestimated.”

The charity’s latest annual research revealed almost a third of teachers had mental health problems and that there was an “increasingly frustrated workforce, struggling to cope”.

Its telephone hotline saw an increase of 35 per cent in teachers calling for emotional support last year.

Behaviour management is the “overwhelming problem” faced by trainees who are now entering the classroom sooner and who sometimes find themselves with “poor quality, inconsistent or entirely absent mentoring”, according to ESP ambassador and Tes author Emma Kell, who is also head of English at a comprehensive in north London.

She told Tes: “Children will sniff out inexperience and if they get the slightest idea that you don’t know what you’re doing, they will exploit that for all it’s worth.

“Trainees can become emotionally and physically exhausted and it’s a slow build, and it’s about recognising it before it’s too late. It creeps up on them and they need to ask for help early on or else, before they know it, they’ve been signed off sick and have missed deadlines for assignments and reports, and so many other things, and it can be very hard to get back on track.”

Ms Kell said she used the hotline herself around 20 years ago as a new teacher after becoming “absolutely exhausted” and unable to eat or sleep. She said she felt as if she “couldn’t do anything right and was letting everybody down all the time”, and wasn’t able to spend time with friends and family.

But she said advice from the charity reminded her of the benefits of having a sense of humour and not taking things too seriously.

“They told me I was no good to anyone until I started looking after myself. I found people I could trust in the school – an older colleague in another department and a deputy head I got on with. And I made changes such as that I’d leave one day a week straightaway after the bell, and I created a pub culture with a few other teachers. It helps you realise that if you thought you’d had a bad day, there’s usually someone else who’s had one as well. It’s enormously reassuring to realise that if a child is playing up for you, they are usually playing up for everyone else.”

The ESP has praised the DfE’s Early Career Framework, which it says has “positively acknowledged” the importance of increased support for teachers within the first two years of their career due to the emotional demands of the teaching role – but adds that this needs to be “actively nurtured” through initial training.

Ms Kell said the DfE needed to ensure there was “quality control” in implementation of the Early Career Framework, with a focus on quality mentor training.

The DfE has been contacted for comment.

Teachers, including trainees, and school staff who are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed can call the free and confidential helpline on 08000 562 561 to receive empathetic and professional support.

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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