Stress can cause pupils to self-harm, say nearly half of school staff

Eleanor Busby

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Nearly two-thirds of education staff believe pressure on teachers and schools to succeed is one of the main causes of student stress, resulting in self-harm, drug abuse and eating disorders.

New research from teaching union the ATL shows that 65 per cent of respondents think pupils are stressed out owing to testing and exams; 48 per cent think pupils suffer from stress because of an overcrowded curriculum and 21 per cent think the cause is the volume of homework.

Sixty-one per cent of respondents believe the pressure on teachers and schools to do well cascades down to pupils, while almost a quarter (22 per cent) think students are worried about getting into the best school or university.

One primary teacher from Oxford, who took part in the survey, said: “Pupils are picking up on teachers' stress owing to inspections and lack of choice of how and what to teach.”

The survey reveals that many education professionals believe rising stress levels are leading to self-harm, attempted suicides and eating disorders among students.

Forty-four per cent of education staff think young people self-harm as a direct result of pressure, while 31 per cent believe pressure results in eating disorders and 12 per cent think it can cause attempted suicide.

Thirty-four per cent of respondents think students skive off as a result of pressure and stress, while 21 per cent say students take recreational drugs to alleviate the pressure.

Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) say pupils in their school are under more pressure and stress than two years ago.

A secondary teacher from Cambridge said: “These issues were still prevalent 10 years ago, but now, I think, we are better at identifying them. Sadly, there is still not enough funding to do much. Students can sometimes wait months for an initial assessment, even when suicidal.”

The survey of 1,250 ATL members working in primary and secondary schools, academies and sixth-forms was carried out in August and September this year.

Speaking ahead of ATL’s fringe event on pupil wellbeing at the Labour Party conference, Dr Mary Bousted, the union's general secretary, said: “It is shocking that so many young people are under so much stress that they self-harm. It is also alarming that much of the pressure and stress is caused by the education system and this needs to be a wake-up call to policymakers."

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Eleanor Busby

Eleanor Busby is a reporter at TES 

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