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Call for ‘decisive action’ as report shows high stress among educational staff

School staff are stressed and many have considered leaving the profession, a report has found (PA)
School staff are stressed and many have considered leaving the profession, a report has found (PA)

Targeted funding and more efforts to improve wellbeing are needed in education according to a charity which found three quarters of staff are stressed and two thirds of senior leaders have considered leaving the sector.

Some 59% of all educational staff surveyed have considered quitting in the past academic year due to pressures on their mental health, Education Support said.

The figure for senior leaders alone was 67%, the organisation said.

More than half (55%) of staff who have considered leaving have actively sought to change or leave their current jobs, the survey found.

Education Support said more than two thirds (68%) of the staff who have considered leaving gave volume of workload as the main reason for thinking of quitting.

The majority of staff (75%) who took part in this year’s Teacher Wellbeing Index by the charity in conjunction with YouGov, said they were stressed.

An even higher percentage (78%) said they experienced mental health symptoms due to their work.

Researchers used the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) to gauge how different groups and those in different regions were feeling.

Scores between 41 and 45 should be considered at high risk of psychological distress, while scores below 40 suggest an individual could be at high risk of major depression, the organisation said.

Scores were lower – indicating less good wellbeing – for younger staff and those who had been in the profession for fewer years.

Of all parts of the UK, staff in Northern Ireland had the highest wellbeing score at 45.96 – although that wad down on 47.26 in 2021.

The North West of England had the lowest score this year with 42.54.

Education Support said that without “decisive action”, the Government risks the “acceleration of current worrying trends” including an increasingly burnt-out workforce, a worsening of the retention and recruitment crisis, and poorer health outcomes for the education workforce.

The charity’s report said: “We need ambitious, fully-funded initiatives that address the systemic drivers of stress and poor mental health in the education sector, including funding, intensification of workload and the status and autonomy of the profession.”

It also called for specific funding targeted “at the most significant drivers of stress”, which it cited as workload and work-life balance; ensuring the Department for Education implements the wellbeing policy test outlined in the Wellbeing Charter; improvements in ensuring wellbeing requirements are met for staff.

Sinead McBrearty, chief executive of Education Support, said the findings “paint a grave picture for the future of education”.

She said: “The Prime Minister has made clear his commitment to growth and the skills agenda, but the reality of the education workforce crisis will not magic itself away.

“No-one has sought to create this situation, but these chronic, entrenched dynamics around workload, stress and mental ill health will limit our national ambition for a generation. We are witnessing the slow disintegration of the workforce.

“Whilst these data make difficult reading for everyone involved in trying to make the system the best it can be, the simple fact is that we are failing.

“Our children and young people deserve so much more from us. It is time to invest in the workforce and to remove the well documented drivers of significant stress in the system.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) (Jason Senior ASCL/PA)

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, (ASCL) said: “The results of this study show a profession that is in crisis because of government underfunding and an excessive regime of inspections and performance tables.

“This situation leaves teachers, leaders and support staff having to do more work with fewer resources, resulting in a heavy toll on wellbeing and making it difficult to recruit and retain staff. The Government must invest more in the education workforce and improve working conditions. This is key to the quality of education it is possible to provide to children.”

Some 3,082 senior leaders, school teachers and support staff were surveyed online in June and July this year.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said they are “incredibly grateful for the continued efforts of teachers and school leaders in supporting pupils”.

The spokesperson said they support staff mental health and wellbeing through a counselling scheme as well as offering training to mental health leads in every school, and reiterated the extra education funding announced in the autumn statement.

They added: “We have also launched the Education Staff Wellbeing Charter, which commits to reducing unnecessary teacher workload, champions flexible working and improves access to wellbeing resources.”