Every day I make decisions that scare me

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

“The message from Ofsted and the government is that the pandemic is over, everything’s back to normal. But we’re so far from that in schools – we’re still living in the heart of it. Every day I make decisions that scare me.”

Panic attacks, anxiety, depression, insomnia, overeating and tearfulness – teachers continue to face significant mental health challenges as a result of pressures at work.

This year’s Teacher Wellbeing Index report warns that the mental health of teaching staff has worsened since last year.

The annual report is published by teacher wellbeing charity Education Support and is based on a survey of almost 3,400 education staff carried out in June and July this year.

This year, it finds that 77 per cent of teachers have reported either behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms of stress, including those listed above – up from 74 per cent in 2020’s report.

It finds that 38 per cent of teachers reported experiencing mental health issues in the past academic year, up from 31 per cent in 2020; 51 per cent of the respondents this year reported psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

Work/life balance and excessive workload remain persistent issues related to those reporting poor mental health. However, the proportion of teachers and staff citing Covid-19 as a contributing factor has rocketed from 33 per cent in 2020 to 62 per cent in 2021.

Teachers in the survey also feel that they are not getting enough guidance and support for their mental health. Only 39 per cent said they got proper support, down from 32 per cent in 2020.

Education Support offers free counselling and support to all those working in education. This can be accessed via its website or the 24/7 telephone helpline, which supported 9,570 cases last year alone.

While Covid was a key factor, workload remains a problem for many of the respondents. When asked what the government should focus on to improve teacher wellbeing, the respondents said:

  • Reducing unnecessary paperwork or data-gathering (48 per cent).
  • Reducing the volume of workload (43 per cent).
  • Recognising the high intensity/high pressure work environment within education settings (41 per cent).

The problems are hitting school leaders too. The proportion of senior leaders who said they experienced mental health issues in the past academic year rose from 29 per cent in 2020 to 41 per cent this year, while 38 per cent said their symptoms could be a sign of exhaustion.

Of those reporting symptoms of poor mental health, 78 per cent of heads and senior leaders attributed them to a poor work/life balance, while the same proportion gave the reason as excessive workload (78 per cent). The impact of Covid-19 on heads and senior leaders’ mental health also increased significantly from 33 per cent last year to 62 per cent this year.

One primary school headteacher who recently contacted Education Support said that while the wider community is “Covid-weary” and desperate to return to “normality”, the situation remains desperate for frontline staff.

She said: “The message from Ofsted and the government is that the pandemic is over, everything’s back to normal. But we’re so far from that in schools – we’re still living in the heart of it.

“Every day I make decisions that scare me. I’m not a medic. I’m a teacher, but everyone expects me to be a Covid expert. I’m afraid that one day I’ll make the wrong decision and someone will get hurt.”

One teacher who contacted Education Support’s helpline said: “I had suicidal thoughts, started blacking out and having several panic attacks a day. Education Support carried me when I couldn’t walk. It really was a lifeline – by making those calls I’m still alive.”

Sinéad McBrearty, chief executive of Education Support, said: “The Index shows that education staff continue to face impossibly high demands and are suffering as a consequence. The pandemic may appear ‘over’ for the wider community, but this report shows that isn’t the case for teachers and senior leaders.

“Rather than seeing improvements to their mental health in 2021, the pressure has ratcheted up further. This report is a wake-up call for anyone who cares about the future of education in the UK.”

  • Education Support is dedicated to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of education staff in schools, colleges and universities. Its free and confidential helpline is available 24/7 to everyone working in education and is available UK-wide on 08000 562 561. Visit www.educationsupport.org.uk
  • Education Support: Teacher Wellbeing Index, November 2021: https://bit.ly/3xIbWvR


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