Stressed headteachers turn to alcohol

80 per cent of heads and school leaders describe themselves as stressed

teachers turning to drink

The number of headteachers and senior leaders who are stressed and showing signs of depression has risen sharply, with some turning to alcohol in a bid to cope, according to new research.

A total of 80 per cent of heads and school leaders describe themselves as stressed, while 59 per cent work more than 51 hours a week – even though only 5 per cent are contracted to do so.

The proportion of senior leaders showing signs of depression has risen from 25 per cent last year to 40 per cent this year

And more than a third of education staff who said they used alcohol to cope with workplace stress were heads or senior leaders.

Julian Stanley, chief executive of the Education Support Partnership charity, which is publishing the research, will appear on television on Sunday morning to talk about the findings.

In the foreword of the report, to be published on Monday, he says: “Of particular concern for me this year is the sharp rise in poor mental health among senior leaders.

“Through a perceived notion of commitment and selflessness this group is failing to seek help when they need it most – something not aided by increasingly intolerable demands and expectations within the current education system.

“We must do more to protect this group and support them to manage their own wellbeing as well as equipping them with the resources to create a positive culture for their staff.”

As reported in Tes last month, 2,000 headteachers took to the streets of Westminster in a protest over funding, which, according to the IFS, has dropped by 8 per cent in real terms since 2010.

The Education Support Partnership research will be presented to MPs in the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Teaching Profession on Monday.

It is based on interviews with 1,500 education staff, from teaching assistants to newly qualified teachers to heads, and from early years to primary and secondary right though to further and adult education.

A third of all staff have turned to alcohol to cope with workplace stress or anxiety in the last year, according to the research, with the largest group being headteachers and senior leaders (at 37 per cent, compared to teachers at 30 per cent).

The report states there has been a large rise this year in insomnia, irritability and tearfulness among education professionals, and that senior leaders were more likely to suffer from all these symptoms than teachers.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT), said: “Everyone knows that on a good day, teaching is one of the most rewarding careers imaginable. The trouble is, there just aren’t enough good days.

“Although the picture is pretty dire, we should not despair because the solutions are clear: pay needs to rise and workload needs to drop. Frustratingly, very little progress is being made.

“On pay, the government has made a serious misjudgement by ignoring the recommendations of its independent panel, the school teachers' review body. It is astonishingly misguided to assume that another real-terms pay cut for the majority of school staff, including leaders, will not have an impact on recruitment and retention.

“On workload, Ofsted’s new accountability framework for September 2019 presents a golden opportunity to cut back a major source of stress. However, the scale of the changes being proposed cannot possibly be implemented in the time available. The only outcome we can see is that stress and workload will continue to rise as schools rush to prepare themselves.

“That is why we are calling on Ofsted to press pause on its plans for a short time. Our "Improving school accountability" report makes nine sensible recommendations for change, and although these proposals have widespread support, Ofsted is choosing to ignore the majority of the profession which will mean that the new framework could do more harm than good.”

If you are an education professional suffering problems with mental health, you can call the charity’s confidential helpline on 0800 056 2561.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Latest stories

Coronavirus schools

GCSE 2020: Autumn exam timetable

This year there will be an opportunity to resit GCSE exams in October. We have the key dates and essential information
Grainne Hallahan 12 Aug 2020
A-level exams

A level 2020: Autumn exam timetable

Students who are unhappy with their centre assessed A-level grades will be able to sit an examination in the Autumn. We have all the key dates and information
Grainne Hallahan 12 Aug 2020