When secondary school teacher Victoria broke down in front of her class, she realised the stress of the job had got too much. “I became exhausted,” she says. “I stepped into my classroom and instantly knew I couldn’t be there.” She called our charity’s helpline, which oﬀers mental health support to those working in education. She’s just one of 8,668 people to have come to us for help in the past 12 months.
From April 2017 to March 2018, the number of teachers seeking support increased by 35%, from 2,321 to 3,136. Counsellors at the Education Support Partnership hear daily from those struggling with the demands of ever-greater accountability, a growing testing culture and workload.
It’s not only teachers who are feeling the pressure. For support staﬀ such as teaching assistants and administrators, budget constraints mean that what 10 years ago was one job is now two or three. Senior leaders are also far from immune – helpline calls from headteachers and deputy heads have risen by 24%. With growing pressures from above and below, this is the group where we’re seeing some of the most severe cases of poor mental health.
The consequence is a mounting recruitment and retention problem. Teaching is one of the most important jobs there is, a chance to shape the future of the next generation. But by turning the role into an unmanageable task we risk alienating those with the passion and skill to succeed.
There is also a link between poor staﬀ mental health and poor pupil mental health. There has not been nearly enough focus on the former in recent years, and this must change if we are to improve the wellbeing of future generations.
The recent growth in demand for mental health support underlines the ﬁndings of our 2017 health survey, in which a third of education professionals said their job had made them feel stressed most or all of the time in the past few weeks, compared to 18% of the UK workforce overall. A staggering 53% had also considered leaving the sector within the past two years because of health pressures.
Despite this bleak picture, I want more people to call our helpline next year, at an earlier stage. The numbers are high, but the majority of those accessing our support are doing so when they are in crisis. This can and should be avoided.
School leaders, governors, teachers and support staﬀ must work to end the continuing stigma around seeking support at the earliest sign of poor mental health. A supportive working environment is key to this. As a sector, we must invest in people. Wellbeing and development can no longer be viewed as a “nice to have”. Failure to address this will lead to more teachers leaving the profession and fewer people wanting to join.
As a minimum standard, schools should have a staﬀ wellbeing policy. Teachers and other staﬀ could also be oﬀered additional training on aspects of the job they ﬁnd most challenging – which, if not addressed, can lead to poor mental health.
Ultimately, we want statutory wellbeing policies in all education institutions, for regulators to prioritise staﬀ wellbeing in their assessments, and for policymakers to acknowledge the vital role staﬀ play educating the next generation by properly listening to their concerns.
Solutions exist. But real change will require a collective approach from everyone in education to recognise the issue and take the practical and tangible steps to address it.
Contact the Education Support Partnership’s free helpline offering support and counselling for teachers on 08000 562 561.
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