Local unions are calling on the government to improve mental health support for teachers.
Last month the Welsh Government announced a trebling in funding to support teachers’ wellbeing and mental health to £1.25m.
Karen Evans, Joint District Secretary for the Liverpool branch of the NEU teacher’s union, backs this sort of rise in funding in England.
She said: “I think it’s desperately needed. It comes up a lot and in any time in your career, we have cases of new teachers and teachers over 50.”
Damien McNulty a member of the National Executive Committee for the NASUWT agrees.
He said: “Levels of mental ill health and work-related stress prior to the pandemic were the single largest factor that had been cited in our annual surveys for many, many years.
“The pandemic has only exacerbated those. We’ve got 90% of teachers across England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man Jersey and Guernsey saying that they’re experiencing more work-related stress in the last 12 months.”
The latest industry wide Teacher Wellbeing Index commissioned by Education Support showed that mental health difficulties were widespread, finding that:
- 77% experienced symptoms of poor mental health due to their work
- 72% are stressed (rising to 84% for senior leaders)
- 46% always go into work when unwell (rising to 54% for senior leaders)
- 42% think their organisation’s culture has a negative impact on their wellbeing
- 54% have considered leaving the sector in the past two years due to pressures on their mental health
According to Isabelle Budd, who has been teaching in primary schools for the past three years, poor mental health is a constant in the profession.
“I’ve seen people signed off with stress. People, including myself, have had breakdowns in the classroom.
“I’ve seen new mums crying as they’ve come back off maternity leave and can’t cope with the workload they’ve been given as they can no longer spend quality time with their children.
“Even teaching assistants have struggled to maintain their relationships with their own children at home because of how much we are expected to do for the children in our classes.”
Miss Budd, however, says that the increase of funding wouldn’t necessarily fix the issues causing poor mental health.
“It depends on where you work. In my last job I had to take weeks off due to stress. If your senior leadership are supportive and understanding, then you shouldn’t have a workload that cause a great deal of stress.
“I feel like what the focus should be on teacher’s workload. The expectations of teachers is getting more and more unrealistic. The benchmark is further and further away leading more people leaving the profession.”
Both the unions agree with this assessment.
“It is a mix, increased workload and absolute micromanagement- it’s constant, in some schools it is constant.” says Ms Evans.
“We’ve got a local school where I’ve got 90 children in one class. What they’ve done is that they’ve got a hall with 90 children. They put two teachers there and a classroom assistant. They can’t possibly get any individual help. They’ve got a big school and they just haven’t got enough teachers. I can see that becoming more and more common.
“Instead of giving teachers extra all they seem to do is give teachers things and it’s never ‘instead of’ that’s the problem.”
Mr McNulty says that the raising of funds for mental health would not be as effective as looking at the underlying problems.
“It’s one approach, in the same way as giving insulin to a type 1 diabetic is an approach to diabetes or you could deal with the root cause.
“So, are we going to treat the symptoms or are we going to treat the cause? Fundamentally at the root of all the issues the teachers have told us time and time again in our national surveys- it is workload.”
He says these issues made worse by local government cuts, changes to the curriculum and the pandemic which has left many “broken”.
He also criticises the academy system, which he feels has led to mismanagement of time and resources, saying that one Liverpool based Executive Headteacher was earning nearly £200,000.
“These two schools in Liverpool are in the most deprived areas of Liverpool. The fact that this headteacher is basically trollying out £518 short of £200,000 is nothing short of morally reprehensible.
“That’s one of the perversions of the academy system because there’s no national condition of service, there’s no national pay they have to follow, people who make decisions aren’t anywhere near as accountable as ordinary schools.
“So, when we talk about more funding for schools, that’s important but we also need to recognise that last year academies had almost £4 billion of unspent money in the bank. Don’t tell me we need more funding for schools and then have £4 billion stashed away for a rainy day across England – it doesn’t seem to add up to me.”