Teacher work stress worsened during 2021 due to Covid

There has been a rise in the number of teachers, school leaders and support staff having symptoms like panic attacks and tearfulness

Tes Reporter

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More than three in four school staff experienced symptoms of poor mental health linked to their work in the past year, a survey suggests.

The number of teachers, heads and support staff in schools who are suffering both psychologically and physically due to their job is growing, according to a report from the Education Support charity.

The survey – of 3,354 teachers, senior leaders and support staff in the UK – suggests that 77 per cent experienced at least one behavioural, psychological or physical symptom linked to their work this year, up from 74 per cent last year.

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These symptoms include panic attacks, anxiety, depression, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, mood swings and tearfulness, the charity said.

Nearly one in five said they had experienced panic attacks in the last year – and those who had been in the sector for two years or less were more likely to report suffering, the poll suggests.

The proportion of staff citing the Covid-19 pandemic as a factor contributing to poor mental health was 62 per cent this year compared to 33 per cent in 2020, according to the Teacher Wellbeing Index 2021.

Overall, nearly two in five of education staff reported experiencing mental health issues in the past academic year, compared to 31 per cent in 2020.

One primary school headteacher told the charity that while the wider community is “Covid-weary” and desperate to return to “normality”, the situation remains desperate for frontline staff.

She said: “The message from Ofsted and the government is that the pandemic is over, everything’s back to normal. But we’re so far from that in schools – we’re still living in the heart of it.

“Every day I make decisions that scare me. I’m not a medic. I’m a teacher, but everyone expects me to be a Covid expert. I’m afraid that one day I’ll make the wrong decision and someone will get hurt.”

Sinead Mc Brearty, chief executive of Education Support, said: “The pandemic may appear ‘over’ for the wider community, but this report shows that isn’t the case for teachers and senior leaders.

“Rather than seeing improvements to their mental health in 2021, the pressure has ratcheted up further. This report is a wake-up call for anyone who cares about the future of education in the UK.”

She added: “The success of the education recovery plans depends on a resilient teaching sector that is supported and resourced to meet the needs of children and young people in the wake of pandemic disruption.

“The government must recognise that education is a high-pressure environment and provide adequate training and support for everyone working in the sector.”

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: “Teachers cannot simply be expected to soldier on. No teacher should be expected to sacrifice their mental or physical health to do their job. The wellbeing of teachers is integral to pupils’ progress and achievement in education.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “Even before the pandemic there were significant existing challenges like heavy workload, the high-stakes nature of the job and a decade of salaries falling in real terms.

“But this has been exacerbated by the lack of trust and support for leaders shown by the government over the past 18 months.

“We are hearing of far too many school leaders at breaking point, and unless the government takes this situation seriously we could be left facing an exodus from the profession.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are incredibly grateful for the efforts of teachers and school leaders over the course of the past 18 months, supporting their pupils through the challenges of the pandemic.

“We have taken a wide range of action to support the wellbeing of staff in education. This includes investing £760,000 in a new mental health support scheme for school leaders, and launching the education staff wellbeing charter which commits to reducing unnecessary teacher workload, championing flexible working and improving access to wellbeing resources.”

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