Teacher wellbeing is, by most accounts, at an all-time low. But while there are increasing efforts to address causes like workload, accountability and school culture, one aspect seems to have been overlooked: the financial security of teachers.
Money is often the root cause of many wellbeing issues that teachers can experience. Years of public sector pay restraint and a lack of affordable housing has meant teachers are increasingly finding themselves facing sudden financial crisis. The number of teachers and school support staff applying for emergency charity grants to prevent them being made homeless in the wake of growing housing costs has more than doubled in the past five years.
And yet it is clear that there is a need for more support in schools than currently exists on financial matters for teachers, as the following experiences demonstrate.
A recent Tes article described the experiences of a single father-of-two, for whom increasing pressure at school along with the high cost of living in London brought him within a hair’s breadth of homelessness.
Meanwhile, Sasha, a school project manager, was unable to work after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She was struggling to cover her housing costs and essential bills on an extremely low income.
Teachers' money worries
And Sarah (not her real name), an NQT and mother of two, was told after a pay rise that she had to pay back £1,000 in tax credits. She was struggling to pay her heating and food bills on top of the repayments to HMRC. A grant from the Education Support Partnership helped her through this difficult period.
How many other schools are able to signpost their staff to the external support available when sudden life crises arise? The teachers mentioned above were fortunate enough to find help by chance – but we must be more proactive.
With a little forward planning, there are a number of support networks that schools can refer staff to in times of crisis.
A first port of call could be the Citizens Advice Bureau, which offers a range of services, including help with budgeting, mortgage problems or rent arrears. Its services are free of charge, available across the UK and accessible online and by telephone.
Christians Against Poverty, recommended by MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis, also offer different types of assistance, such as debt counselling and money management.
In a crisis, staff may need reminding that the teaching unions also offer support. For example, the NASUWT can help through its Benevolent Fund after an application and a visit to assess levels of need.
Schools can themselves discuss sickness entitlement, maternity pay and requests for flexible working hours, as well as opportunities for staff to supplement their income through extra dinner duties, exam marking or private tuition, where appropriate.
It’s also encouraging to see other longer-term projects aiming to support education staff with things like affordable housing. The Home Buy Service ensures that a certain number of properties are available from housing associations for key workers such as education staff, as unaffordable housing remains a very real issue for teachers. More than 80 per cent of towns are unaffordable to teachers when it comes to buying a house, according to the latest figures.
LocatED is another charity working with the Department for Education to run a number of "surplus land" pilot projects, which redesign unused land on school properties to release potential for teacher housing. LocatED says the pilots will focus on areas of England with high housing needs, and the potential to include affordable teacher housing will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
In addition to these, the charity Education Support Partnership, supports hundreds of education workers every year with emergency grants to help with housing costs and essential bills.
For many teachers, their only family is the school family; the support offered by their SLT, and the companionship of colleagues, doesn't just help them to cope, it also gives them the tools to build their new future. We need to take that responsibility seriously and ensure that schools know where to point teachers for support for financial matters when they most need it.
Deborah Jenkins is a supply teacher in Sussex