'Primary teachers have highest psychological distress'

Academics call for 'urgent intervention' to improve primary school teachers’ mental health

Caroline Henshaw

Revealed: The five main reasons why teachers teach.

Primary school teachers have significantly more long-term mental health problems than other professionals, according to new research.

Researchers from the University of Exeter who followed primary school teachers for three academic years found almost a third experienced worryingly high levels of psychological distress.

Teachers blamed repeated shake-ups in their jobs, increasing pressure to produce good exam results and micromanagement for their unhappiness.

The authors called for “urgent intervention” to improve primary teachers’ mental health given their important influence over young pupils’ development.

“High levels of stress in primary school teachers are well-recorded, with above average levels of burn-out, self-harm and suicide, yet this is the first study of its kind where findings are sustained over time,” said Tamsin Ford, a professor at the University of Exeter Medical School.

“Some teachers told us that the reason for this includes the constant and repeated reorganisations of teaching and the demands in primary school for ever-higher academic attainment.

“Other potential candidates include micromanagement, not being trusted to do the job and workload associated with planning and recording – but there is not a lot of hard evidence.”

The research, which was supported by the National Institute for Health Research, looked at data from up to 90 primary school teachers in the South West of England.

It found that between 19 per cent and 29 per cent of primary school teachers experienced “clinically significant levels of distress” over a 30-month period.

The survey supports extensive studies showing that growing numbers of teachers are highly stressed and anxious.

Recent research by the Education Support Partnership (ESP) charity found that 31 per cent of teachers had experienced mental health problems in the last year.

Ofsted, meanwhile, warned in September that UK teachers’ wellbeing is at a record low – and worse among those working in primary schools.

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Caroline Henshaw

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