The Liberal Democrats’ report revealed that 3,750 teachers were signed off on long-term sick leave last year. This means one in 83 teachers is on long-term sick leave for stress or mental Health related issues. Over the last four years, teachers have taken off a staggering 1.3 million days because of suffering from poor mental health.
Evidence that teaching at schools in England can be hazardous to one’s health has been accumulating over recent years, with numerous reports highlighting a profession beset with individuals suffering from stress, insomnia and anxiety. This report clarifies just how dire this situation is with record numbers of teachers absent from the classroom on long-term sick leave.
Referring to the report’s findings that almost 4,000 teachers were signed off on long-term sick leave due to the pressures of work, anxiety and mental illness, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, warned of an “epidemic of stress” caused by unrealistic demands and excessive working hours.
“Teachers work more unpaid overtime than any other profession. 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,” explained Dr Bousted.
Dr Bousted also raised the issue of the constant changes to the curriculum which have “left teachers rocking from stress and exhaustion,” and the burden of unnecessary student assessments, which create stress for teachers and students, describing English children as some of the “most over-assessed in the modern world”.
The excessive workloads of teachers in England, and the negative impact this has on their health, was reported earlier in a report published by the Education Policy Institute which concluded that over 50 percent of the country’s teachers were working 40-58 hours a week and over 20 percent of teachers worked more than 60 hours a week.
The Lib Dem’s report also supports earlier research by National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) which revealed that more than 80 percent of school staff believe their job has had a negative impact on their health. The survey concluded that insomnia (84 percent) and anxiousness (74 percent) were the ailments which respondents suffered from most. Lethargy (54 percent) was another commonly reported health disorder among teachers and school staff.
In 2014, a survey by by the Education Support Partnership, reported similar findings with, ‘A large majority of (teachers) 89% blamed excessive workloads for their ill health while more than half cited rapid pace of change (54%) and unreasonable demands from managers (53%) as other key factors. Overall, 80% of teachers, lecturers and support staff said their mental health would improve if managers worked with staff to reduce workload.’
The most worrying report about stress among the teaching professional came from statistics released in 2017 which revealed that the suicide rate for primary school teachers was double the national average, with 139 suicides among teaching and educational professionals in 2016, confirming that teaching was now ‘one of the most highly stressed occupations in the country.’
Commenting on these statistics, John Coe, from at the National Association for Primary Education (NATE), confirmed that what the report had revealed was “highly worrying”, adding that, “The impact of government policies and the maintenance of a highly competitive structure of schools — inspections, league tables and all the rest — leads to a lot of pressure.”
With an ever-growing number of reports revealing how the Conservative government’s mismanagement of the English education system is punishing the very individuals who are committed to doing their best for the children of this country, it’s clear that fundamental reforms are necessary to reverse the current government’s obsession with excessive administration, unnecessary assessments and competitive school rankings.
Unless changes are made soon, more teachers will fall ill, less graduates will be attracted to the teaching profession and the country’s chronic teacher shortage will become absolutely dire.
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