There is a dearth of good-quality research on how to best prevent teacher burnout, despite teaching being one of the most stressful professions – and the belief that teachers’ mental health is important for the wellbeing of their pupils, a new report says.
The NHS Health Scotland report, which set out to uncover what worked to support teachers’ mental health and wellbeing, identified mindfulness – a form of meditation that asks participants to focus on the present moment – as one of the best ways to support teachers' mental health, according to research evidence from home and abroad.
Background: What is teacher workload like in Scotland?
However, it went on to caution that while some research had been undertaken into how best to support teacher wellbeing – from getting teachers to write privately about the stresses and strains of the job, to running "chill and chat" session for teachers at lunchtime – sample sizes were often small and “the overall quality of the evidence was weak”.
Teacher wellbeing: How can we cut stress levels?
The study found that research focused on the prevention of mental health problems rather than the promotion of positive mental health and wellbeing. It also said that the majority of studies focused on individual-level approaches to help teachers to cope, as opposed to strategies at an organisational level to reduce stressors and prevent stress.
It warned that while mindfulness had been shown to have “beneficial effects on perceived stress levels and mental wellbeing”, there was a risk that this approach to stress management would put the responsibility on school staff “to be resilient in the face of adverse working conditions instead of employers or school leaders looking at ways at an organisational level to lessen the workload or change the work environment”.
The report suggested that a more effective approach would be combining organisational-level strategies with individual approaches.
A survey conducted last year by the EIS, Scotland's largest teaching union, showed that more than 75 per cent of teachers frequently felt stressed because of their workload. Of those, 16.5 per cent said they were stressed "all the time".
Commenting on the publication of the NHS Scotland report, Larry Flanagan, the EIS general secretary, said it served to highlight the absence of school-level interventions to support teachers’ mental health.
He called for more to be done to tackle the high levels of stress in the profession, including reducing teacher class contact time and class sizes.
Mr Flanagan added: “The EIS is promoting a 20/20 vision for the future of Scottish schools – with maximum teacher class-contact time of 20 hours a week and maximum class sizes of 20 pupils. These changes would be positive for teachers and for pupils alike.”