The Health Of The Profession

15 Oct

In a post looking at the use of supply teachers recently I briefly touched on the mental health issues faced by teachers. I wanted to take the time to write a bit more in-depth about that here.

The recent Times Educational Supplement survey showed startling evidence as to the way morale and motivation have been hit in Wales with 73% of teachers and 75% of heads saying it had decreased as a result of changes to policy.

This concern is not simply one that hits teachers in services, it is actively driving talented and experienced practitioners away from a role they have trained and dedicated themselves to for years. A 2001 NUT survey showed that 56% of individuals who were leaving the teaching profession did so siting stress/ill-health as a factor.

This study, conducted by Cardiff University and published by the Health and Safety Executive, provides illuminating evidence as to the nature of stress encountered by teachers. Although the report was put together some time ago its findings are still very applicable to the current state of the profession. While the average occupation saw around 20% of staff reporting high stress the teaching profession returned a 41% rate. Nurses and managers were the two professions that followed closest to teaching, yet even they had a far lower level of stress at 31% and 27% respectively.

The below stats from the Office of National Statistics highlight the extreme end of this issue.

Total numbers of deaths by suicide and indeterminate intent for teachers aged 20-64

England and Wales

Year – 2008 / 2009 / 2010 / 2011

Male – 23 / 37 / 26 / 26

Female – 12 / 28 / 16 / 31

Total Persons – 35 / 65 / 42 / 57

Teachers suicide rates are disproportionately high. There was an 80% rise between 2008 and 2009 and that jump has yet to return to 2008 levels. Even where it dropped in 2010 the most recent 2011 figures show that there was another spiked increase. These figures were published in May 2013. With the way the teaching profession has continued to be undermined in the public eye over the past two years; coupled with attacks on pay and pensions following years of public sector pay being frozen, I would not be shocked if 2012 and 2013 figures showed an increase. I sincerely hope I am wrong on that.

Of course not every teacher suicide will be directly linked to the pressures of the job. However we cannot ignore the link between high suicide rates amongst the profession and the ongoing shocking levels of stress and anxiety in post.

I’m hoping to do some more work on this issue over the coming weeks and will aim to publish a further post on the issue at that time. In the meantime for further reading and support it is worth checking out the NUT guidance on stress management and teachers support.

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