High Workloads Are Harming Teachers' Mental Health

13/09/2016 17:14

The devastating impact of the last six years of economic austerity, with its savage attacks on public services and on workers' rights is evident in the motions submitted for debate at this year's TUC Congress.

Job loss and deep cuts to resources have resulted in spiralling workloads and long working hours. Draconian public sector pay restraint has led to a massive drop in living standards for millions of public sector workers and workforce morale is at an all-time low as workers struggle almost against the odds to maintain the high quality services the public expect and deserve.

Nowhere has this strain been more evident than in teaching.

A toxic combination of ever increasing workload demands, the pressures of a punitive accountability system and cuts to budgets, leading to job loss, job insecurity and a reduction in specialist support for schools have been key contributory factors.

Teaching has always been an intensively demanding job, but evidence collected annually by the NASUWT over the last five years demonstrates that teachers' health and wellbeing have deteriorated dramatically.

The latest figures highlight that almost half of teachers have seen a doctor in the last 12 months as a result of work related physical or mental health problems, 14% have undergone counselling and 5% have been admitted to hospital.

Over three quarters reported experiencing work related anxiousness; 86% have suffered sleeplessness and a third report poor health.

10% of teachers say they have been prescribed anti-depressants to help them cope with work and 7% of teachers use or have increased their reliance on prescription drugs. Of even deeper concern is that fact that 2% of teachers report self-harming as a result of work-related pressures

22% of teachers have increased their use of alcohol, 21% have increased their use of caffeine and 5% increased their use of tobacco to help them manage work-related stress.

As one teacher said: "Extreme excessive workload resulted in me having a breakdown. I was off work for 6 months. I am now on maternity leave. I just don't know how I will cope with pressures when I return and am considering leaving teaching. It is not a job that you can do with a young family."

Another related the devastating impact work-related stress has had on her health, saying: "I am now taking anti-depressants. I feel undervalued. Stress levels have increased which has impacted upon my interaction with students and the quality of my teaching. I am seriously considering leaving the profession."

That the Government, aided and abetted by too many employers, continues to fail seriously to address these problems, problems spawned by its policies, is scandalous.

Stress is one of key contributors to the current teacher supply crisis. It is driving talented teachers out of the profession, no longer able to cope with the excessive demands placed upon them.

Employers have responsibility for the mental health and wellbeing of their staff but evidence shows that all too few take this responsibility seriously.

The wellbeing of the teaching workforce has a direct impact on the quality of educational provision. High quality education cannot be delivered by worn out, stressed and anxious teachers.

Government and employers cannot claim to be committed to raising standards of education if the health of the workforce continues to be a low priority.

Yet instead of offering support, in far too many cases employers introduce punitive and callous sickness absence policies which actually exacerbate the stress and anxiety which teachers are experiencing and generate a culture of shame and silence around mental health in the workplace.

As part of the NASUWT's campaign to highlight and address the critical issue of the mental health and wellbeing of teachers and other workers, the Union has submitted a motion to TUC Congress on mental health calling for a series of actions to be taken.

The NASUWT believes that in addition to reviewing its policies and practices which are having such a devastating impact on the workforce, the Government should be ensuring that employers are providing mental health first-aid courses, something the NASUWT does for its members.

Employers should also be required to have a wellbeing policy for their workforce which is clear on the support available to staff, including providing an entitlement to mental health training, professional counselling or cognitive behaviour therapy when suffering work-related mental ill health.

Until Government and employers learn to value their workforce and realise that the health and wellbeing of teachers and other workers is inextricably linked to the provision of high quality services, the NASUWT will continue its programme of support for teachers and school leaders, including empowering them to resist the unacceptable working conditions through the Union's ongoing industrial action strategy.