Are school leaders facing the brunt of external accountability and teacher workload?
For several years, I have been conducting my research into the reasons behind teacher workload. My research across the UK and on social media, concludes that school leaders are the driving force behind workload issues in schools. But, are they the only source to blame? As a former school leader, when I work with schools, the challenges that school leaders face and the difficulties that they face to get things right is an enormous task.
In October, the charity Education Support Partnership published their Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018; a robust piece of research highlighting a stress epidemic and rising mental health issues across the entire UK education workforce.
A stress epidemic?
This report explores the mental health and wellbeing of education professionals working across the education sector. The underpinning research had three aims:
- To provide a description of the mental health and wellbeing of teachers and education staff using the most recent data
- Analyse trends over time
- Identify differences in the teacher and education staff populations as appropriate.
What does it mean to work in education?
- 67 per cent of education professionals describe themselves as stressed (80% of senior leaders)
- 29 per cent of all teachers work more than 51 hours a week on average
- 74 per cent consider the inability to switch off and relax to be the major contributing factor to a negative work/life balance
- 45 per cent consider family/friends to be the main source of support.
The mental health and wellbeing of education professionals?
- 31 per cent have experienced a mental health issue in the past academic year
- 76 per cent have experienced behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to their work
- 43 per cent of symptoms could be signs of anxiety or depression – considerably higher than nationally reported
- 43 per cent attribute work symptoms to student behavioural issues
- 57 per cent have considered leaving the sector over the past two years as a result of health pressures
- 72 per cent cite workload as the main reason for considering leaving their jobs.
The impact of wellbeing issues on others?
- 47 per cent with mental health symptoms were away for a month or more over the academic year
- 40 per cent of senior leaders and teachers believe that having time off work due to mental health symptoms will have a negative impact on their students’ studies
- 35 per cent of senior leaders (and 30% of teachers) believe that taking time off work due to mental health symptoms will have a negative effect on working relationships with their colleagues
- 56 per cent of senior leaders (and 49% of teachers) believe that as a result of psychological, physical or behavioural problems at work their personal relationships have suffered.
The guidance (and stigma) for mental health and wellbeing?
- 65 per cent would not feel confident in disclosing mental health problems or unmanageable stress to their employer
- 36 per cent report that they had no form of mental health support where they work
- 64 per cent do not regularly survey their staff to establish levels of employee wellbeing
- 74 per cent consider they do not have enough guidance about mental health and wellbeing at work.
Dataset and Sample Size
The research was conducted using an online survey of education professionals drawn from YouGov’s panel. The total sample size was 1,502 education professionals and the survey was conducted during the period 27 June to 22 July 2018.
Education Support Partnership is the UK’s only charity providing mental health and wellbeing support services to all education staff and organisations. You can download the report and read more on Education Support Partnership.
The next generation?
So, how do we change the narrative and support hard-working school leaders and teachers? Here are the recommendations from the report.
- Mandatory provision of personal mental health and wellbeing guidance within Initial Teacher Training
- Regulators to prioritise staff wellbeing in their assessments and measure this against an evidence-based framework
- Annual staff surveys to become statutory in all schools and colleges; with senior leaders acting on the issues identified in an open and transparent way
- Increased awareness, knowledge and signposting to external support services
- Access to an externally provided Employee Assistance Programme for all staff in schools and colleges
- Access to facilitated peer support programmes for all leaders in schools and colleges
On my travels I’ve met head teachers who have told me that they are taking, for example, antidepressant drugs to help them get through the day; several head teachers who have since left the profession; or the growing group of current head teachers who are sharing their Ofsted story with me, highlighting the injustice within the system.
So, with this research, where do we go next? And how do we recruit the next generation of school leaders to take on the workload challenge?