Virtuous circles, not vicious cycles, if you think happy

7th December 2007 at 00:00
Teacher well-being has a significant impact on pupil results - and vice versa. Adi Bloom reports.Teachers concerned about improving results may be tempted to stay in, work hard and worry excessively. But what they should be doing is going out, having fun and relaxing, a new report suggests.

Academics from Birkbeck College in London have found that happier staff tend to teach more effectively. Working with Worklife Support, a teacher charity, they collected data from 24,100 staff in more than 400 schools. Staff were asked whether they felt valued or cared for at work. And how much they enjoyed and felt stimulated by their job and whether they felt overworked. The academics then studied test scores for each school.

In primaries, the researchers found that 92 per cent of the variation in key stage test scores could be explained by factors such as pupil background and the number with special needs. But 8 per cent of the variation in pupils' scores could be attributed to teacher well-being. "Though this may appear relatively small, it is statistically significant," the researchers said.

In secondaries, there was also a significant link between staff well-being and the number of pupils achieving five top-grade GCSEs. Pupils' progress between the end of primary school and the completion of GCSEs was also affected by how happy their teachers were.

The researchers were unsurprised. "How teachers feel on a daily basis is likely to affect their performance and so, in turn, the performance of their pupils," they said. "Happier, motivated teachers may make pupils feel happier, motivated and more confident."

Happier staff are also less likely to be distracted by personal concerns and so are better able to concentrate on teaching. The researchers claimed that this was significant for schools because teacher well-being is easier to improve than other factors known to affect test scores.

But teachers are the only members of staff whose happiness has a direct impact on league tables. The well-being of teaching assistants and support staff was not found to affect pupil performance. The researchers said: "This is to be expected, as pupils interact most with classroom-based teaching staff."

Similarly, there was no variation across subject areas: results in all subjects were equally affected by the happiness of teachers.

But, the researchers note, the effects could also be inverted: "Just as increases in teacher well-being can lead to improvements in the performance of pupils, so increases in pupil performance may lead to increased well-being in teachers. If so, both virtuous circles and downward spirals are possible."

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