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Mental Health Concerns in Teachers


Yesterday, the NASUWT –Teachers Union, published an article, Neglect of teacher’s mental health and physical health is a national scandal.

It reported that the survey showed:

“Three in ten teachers (30%) say they have turned to medication in the last 12 months to deal with the physical and mental toll their job is taking on them. Nearly two thirds (65%) of teachers also feel their job has adversely affected their mental health and over half (54%) feel it has affected their physical health in the last 12 months.”.

The government green paper ‘Transforming children and young people’s mental health’, will possibly  help with tackling the issues in the growing rise of mental health needs for children, but have they considered the issue of mental health in staff? With teachers experiencing high workload and stress, surely this green paper, which suggests putting more onus onto schools in treating mental health issues, will actually add to the workload and stress teachers face? Shouldn’t more be done to improve the services such as CAMHS (which has received budget cuts in recent years).


3750 teachers off on long term stress


The Liberal Democrats reported through a freedom of information request in January that,

 “3750 teachers in England on long term stress leave”.

The issues that perhaps lead to this were highlighted last September by the Chief Executive of the Education Support Partnership, Julian Stanley who said:

 “Every day we support education professionals who are suffering the consequences of many factors causing severe pressure: budget cuts; fewer staff, bigger class sizes and localised recruitment and retention difficulties in some areas are adding to workload and increasing stress levels.” 

With these facts in mind, the idea that the ‘Transforming children and young people’s mental health’ green paper is suggesting that schools should shoulder more of the responsibility for mental health issues seems to be a bit concerning!


Lack of resources


In August 2017, the new General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders spoke of a lack of resources in support for young people, and suggested that the government was putting too much into results and not enough into emotional wellbeing (reported in CRG August 2017)


 “Obviously good exam passes are important but if mental health is a barrier to achievement then we need to be able to help young people get over that barrier…..I would agree with improving teachers’ skills and knowledge in this area as long as we are not seeing ourselves as mental health professionals. We need to recognise the need for proper professional support at a time when CAMHS is buckling and there are not enough resources in schools.”


NHS cuts and closures

An article published in the Independent in May 2017 titled, Third of NHS children’s mental health services face cut or closure, mentioned a survey carried out by the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP), British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP), British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC) and UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), that found  the severity in a mental health problem before being able to have outside help had increased for children, and with the massive growth of mental health issues in school age children, this leaves a major gap in support that would seem now is expected to be found by schools.   In the Teacher recruitment and retention in England briefing paper,  it advises that Ministers would, “do more to consider the impact on schools when introducing significant policy changes”, and that the DfE would discuss workload implications and issues as part of its engagement with school leaders and teachers on significant policy changes. It would seem that teachers are already at workload breaking point. They surely need their burdens to be reduced not increased.


Government Review

The school workforce in England review in 2016 stated that,

In 2015, the number of teachers leaving the profession was higher than the number entering for the first time. In the year to November 2016, 2,620 more teachers left the profession than joined.”

In the DoE analysis of school and teacher level factors relating to teacher supply, Sept 2017, the three main reasons listed were,

“workload, government policy and lack of support and leadership” These facts surely suggest that strategy needs to be created to help with the mental health in teachers and also to find ways of reducing workload so that the job becomes more deliverable and thereby improving retention rates. This would surely also improve the mental health and learning outcomes in students too as how can a highly stressed teacher create a positive learning environment for students?

Independent Research

A survey conducted jointly by Leeds Beckett University Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools, and teaching advice website Teachwire, looked for the impact of teacher’s mental health on their relationships with pupils. The research found that  “54% of respondents (teachers) report that they currently have poor mental health”. It also found that 73% believed their mental health would impact on the quality of teaching explanations delivered. Professor Glazzard, a leader in research at the Carnagie centre,  added: “The Government is really focussed on children’s mental health, but we also need to look at the mental health of teachers” One of the anonymous comments made in the survey perhaps reflects the overarching issue: “Being under constant scrutiny because of perceived poor teaching interferes with moving pupils on as I would have previously done. Before I was targeted, my pupils achieved excellent rates of progress. Now my confidence has gone.” Is it possible that the onus of expectations on progress has transferred over to the teacher rather than the students? Moreover, the stress created for teachers to meet expectations of progress impinges on their mental health, and this mental state could then impact on students’ mental health? It was reported in the JAMA Psychiatry  journal in February 2016, “worse school performance was associated with maternal and paternal depression at any time before the final compulsory school year“, and also how, “diagnoses of parental depression may have a far-reaching effect on child development”. If mental health problems in parents can have an impact on academic success, why would the same impact not be felt by students of teachers?   Epidemic of stress   When you walk into a place that is teaching our future world leaders, our scientists of tomorrow, or the people that will lead us further through this digital revolution, do you want them to be in a place of stress, or a place of creative freedom? Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, warned in the Guardian in January that teachers are in an:  epidemic of stress….. Teachers work more unpaid overtime than any other profession,” she said. “Classroom teachers routinely work 55 hours or over a week. School leaders routinely work over 60 hours a week. And it is not just the amount of work. It is the pressures of a punitive and non-productive accountability system.” This massive workload is surely contributing to the mental health problems that some teachers face. Finding ways to reduce this should surely be a priority? The Government workload challenge research project summary suggests that one of the ways that impedes developments in workload is, “Accountability measures that place heavy workload burdens on teachers e.g. through lengthy and/or frequent reporting requirements.” This accountability must surely include the need for reporting in safeguarding. It has been identified that schools are lacking in technology that can help reduce their workload. Safeguarding systems which make mental health and child protection issues easy to identify and pick up those responsible for such issues will reduce workload all round.

Advances in technology

At the ASCL’s annual conference in March 2018, the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds said that he wanted to support schools to use technologies in ways that reduce workload, “My goal is to support schools to use technologies in ways that actually reduce the workload burden, while supporting teachers to deliver great lessons.” The TES mentioned in February how artificial intelligence and other advancements in technology could help in reducing teacher workload. From intelligent marking systems, to collaborative teaching structures, to improving safeguarding reporting, there are many ways in which technology can help.

Safeguarding Technology

Our safeguarding intelligent monitoring software enables real-time alerts online and offline of children AND teachers at risk. These alerts can be sent securely and confidentially to a school safeguarding lead. With large class sizes, this can have the positive impact that it reduces the amount a class teacher has to monitor their pupils’ digital usuage, picks up on concerns that busy teachers may not see, and also alerts the safeguarding lead to issues with both teachers and students at an early stage, helping early intervention. Our whitepaper on mental health that looks at the benefits of early intervention can be found here. Moreover, recognising that the workload in schools is high, Future Digital now offer an assisted monitoring service through some of our partners, which can then reduce the workload for safeguarding staff even further. See our Q&A with Warwickshire digital safeguarding service to see how this works.