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Teacher wellbeing at a five-year low

The charity Education Support has released its annual Teacher Wellbeing Index. It makes depressing reading (again).  The survey, which involved over 3,000 education staff, reveals a continued decline in the wellbeing of staff working in the education sector. 

Key findings

The number of school and college staff experiencing stress has reached its highest levels on record, with 78% saying they suffer from stress, rising to 89% of those in senior roles and to staggering 95% amongst headteachers. Nearly a quarter of school leaders (24 %) are experiencing acute stress and 55 % said the organisational culture in their workplace has a negative effect on their wellbeing. [Acute stress isn't defined but is usually taken to refer to an intense, unpleasant, and dysfunctional reaction beginning shortly after an overwhelming traumatic event and lasting less than a month.]

Over a third of individuals surveyed (36 %) reported experiencing burn-out, a 9% increase on the previous year's figures.  Additionally, over half of the respondents encountered insomnia or difficulty sleeping.

Staff reported experiencing profound feelings of loneliness and isolation. In fact, compared to the national population of England, teachers and education staff are twice as likely to feel lonely in their workplace. 

The report also considered suicide risk factors and identified specific cohorts that were at particular risk - namely 6% of senior leaders and 5% of all staff who experienced both loneliness alongside acute stress and/or burnout.  

The overall well-being score for the education sector was recorded as 43.44, marking a decrease of 0.47 from the previous year. This score is considerably lower than the national average of 51.40. Scores ranging from 41 to 45 are classed as being at a high risk of psychological distress and an increased likelihood of experiencing depression. 

Following the death of headteacher Ruth Perry, this years’ survey also asked questions about Ofsted inspections and their impact on teachers' wellbeing. The report found that 73% of staff members believed that Ofsted inspections were not adequately fulfilling their intended purpose, 64% that they do not deliver reliable judgements, and 71% said that they negatively impacted on their mental health. 

The authors recommend that schools and colleges:

  1. Develop a coherent strategy to improve the wellbeing of staff
  2. Prioritise suicide prevention by reducing levels of stress, burnout and loneliness
  3. Invest in soft leadership skills

It also makes several recommendations aimed at the government, including increasing funding so that it matches demand, overhauling the inspection system and properly funding the ‘wider ecosytem’ of public services.

What is the government doing about it?

The government says that it is alive to this problem and has set up a new taskforce whose aim is to reduce the working hours of teachers and leaders by five hours per week within three years. It includes representatives from all four teaching unions, as well as from teachers, leaders, academics, and other experts from the education sector. 

The Department for Education is also planning an update to its teacher recruitment and retention strategy to attract, support, and develop highly skilled teachers who will' inspire the next generation'.

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