Staff wellbeing: ‘We are witnessing the slow disintegration of the workforce’

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

Insomnia, mood swings, over-eating, tearfulness, recurring headaches, difficulty concentrating – welcome to life as a teacher in 2022.

The latest Teacher Wellbeing Index (TWIX) reveals that 72% of teachers are stressed and 76% have experienced mental health symptoms due to their work.

The figures rise further still when it comes to senior leaders (87% and 84% respectively).

The TWIX study is published annually by the teacher wellbeing charity Education Support. Responding to the findings, CEO Sinéad McBrearty said this week that we are witnessing “the slow disintegration of the workforce”.

This year’s report finds that a third (36%) of staff have experienced a mental health issue in the last academic year, while 59% of teachers and 67% of senior leadership have considered quitting in the last year.

Indeed, 55% have actively sought to change roles or leave their current position, with 66% of teachers and 83% of senior leaders citing workload as the main reason for thinking about quitting.

Other notable reasons cited for wanting to leave teaching include seeking a better work/life balance (63%), not feeling valued (60%), unnecessary paperwork or data-gathering (50%), directly due to mental health concerns (39%), or due to unreasonable demands from managers (42%).

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Alarmingly, 47% of the respondents said they always went into work when unwell. And the symptoms of poor mental health cited by the study’s respondents have almost all increased since the 2021 report.

  • Difficulty concentrating: Affecting 44% of teachers (up 15% since 2021)
  • Forgetfulness: 41% (up 15%)
  • Tearfulness: 40% (up 12%)
  • Irritability or mood swings: 45% (up 10%)
  • Over-eating: 43% (up 8%)
  • Recurring headaches/migraines: 38% (up 7%)
  • Muscle tension: 36% (up 9%)
  • Changes to appetite: 23% (up 9%)
  • Panic attacks: 20% (down 1%)
  • High blood pressure: 13% (up 2%)

Of the respondents, 44% said they considered their symptoms to be signs of anxiety, while others said they were feeling exhaustion (30%), burn-out (28%), depression (27%), and acute stress (20%).

And it seems a lack of a mentally healthy culture in schools is a key problem. Only 24% of the respondents said their school’s culture had a positive impact on their wellbeing, with 42% saying it actually had a negative effect; 27% said the culture of the team within which they worked was negative.

Worryingly, only 45% said they felt trusted by their line manager, 48% said they did not feel supported at work, while 59% said they would not feel confident disclosing any issues to their schools.

The study involved 3,082 education staff working across the UK and the research was undertaken in June and July this year.

Commenting on the findings, headteacher Matt Quigley said: “This report correlates directly with my current experience as a school leader. Stress, anxiety and depression are prevalent among staff; funding cuts really aren't helping with me having to ask staff to give even more when they're already on their knees; it is reasonable to expect that this would then negatively impact on the long-term health and wellbeing of staff.

“And despite working really hard over the last few years in order to create a 'compassionate culture' among our staff, even for a great staff like ours we are all starting to fray at the edges. This way of working simply isn't sustainable for much longer and some wide-ranging changes need to be made.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “Sadly, these findings sound very familiar, and reflect what we are hearing from our members. Crushing workload and high-stakes accountability, burnout following the additional pressures during the pandemic, and salaries worth 24% less than they were a decade ago, have left many school leaders at breaking point.”

Ms McBrearty said: “These findings paint a grave picture for the future of education. No-one has sought to create this situation, but these chronic, entrenched dynamics around workload, stress and mental ill-health will limit our national ambition for a generation. We are witnessing the slow disintegration of the workforce.

“While these data make difficult reading for everyone involved in trying to make the system the best it can be, the simple fact is that we are failing. Our children and young people deserve so much more from us. It is time to invest in the workforce and to remove the well documented drivers of significant stress in the system.”

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