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Raising awareness of teacher mental health

The rise in teachers’ mental health concerns points towards a worrying trend in the education profession. Find out why schools should address wellbeing as part of their core strategy.

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There is mounting pressure placed upon educators; the workload, the expectation to meet Ofsted standards, marking to take home, and the challenge to do more with increasingly tight budgets. With Mental Health Awareness Week approaching, it’s an appropriate time to consider how teacher mental health could be affecting education.

A study by Leeds Beckett University of 775 educators indicated that more than three quarters of teachers believe poor mental health is having a detrimental effect on the learning environment and progress made by their pupils.

Sadly, many teachers — particularly NQTs — are leaving the profession, citing workload and stress as their primary concern. But for others, it’s simply not considered a viable option to quit and attempt to enter a new profession.

In 2015, the rate of suicide among primary school teachers was nearly twice as high as that of the UK national average. While this statistic could point to other related health or lifestyle issues, there have been repeated warnings about mounting work pressure and a competitive structure within the sector, leading to poor mental health.

Teachers on long-term stress leave

According to research by the Liberal Democrats, there were 3,750 teachers on long-term leave for stress during the academic year 2016-17. This is five percent more than the previous year.

“Guidance to governing bodies is clear that they have a responsibility to take work-life balance into account when managing staff. Where staff are struggling, we trust headteachers to take action to tackle the causes of stress and ensure they have the support they need.” Department for Education

The issue of absent educators naturally points towards gaps in student education. What’s more, studies have highlighted a direct link between teacher health and wellbeing, and school attainment levels and pupils’ results.

Schools should, therefore, invest more in the core development and wellbeing of our valuable education workforce, for the benefit of teachers and our pupils.

The impact on pupils

With increasing pressure to perform summative and formative assessments, studies have found that teacher wellbeing has a direct impact on SAT scores in the UK.

The issue of teacher wellbeing, however, is rarely addressed at the source; more time and better tools for teachers to optimise their time more effectively. Can more be done, perhaps, to support teachers with training and technologies that genuinely enhance their teaching methods, rather than schools investing in technology for technology’s sake?

Teacher wellbeing is a grave issue that is not only affects the quality of pupils’ education, but can endanger lives. According to the Office of National Statistics, the rate of teacher suicides has been gradually rising since 2001.

Office of National Statistics

Giving teachers more flexibility to teach in a way that suits them could alleviate some of the day-to-day teaching pressures, but inherent changes still need to be made within education. Governing bodies should, perhaps, make teacher health a core accountability when rating a school’s performance, much like Ofsted assessment standards.

As part of their increasing workload, teachers report pressure to use technology for technology’s sake, rather than where it is relevant. As a result, edtech is often seen as a blocker rather than an enhancer for education. Too many teachers still see technology as an activity that is confined to the computer room.

Investment is good technology, however, simply isn’t enough. Training and support is essential to ensure that educators benefit from the tools there to assist them. What’s more, raising awareness of the importance of good mental health through campaigns like Mental Health Awareness Week helps puts the issue at the forefront of the industry.

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