The changing daily reality of teaching

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

From resolving family conflicts to cleaning dirty clothes, the "new reality" of teaching is one of increasing pastoral and social welfare duties – but unprepared teachers are feeling the strain...

“It’s time to decide whether schools are the front line of children’s services, or whether they are specialists in education.”

The nature of teaching is changing with teachers being forced to take on increasing pastoral duties to support the welfare of vulnerable pupils and their families.

A report from teacher wellbeing charity Education Support describes the expanding list of emotional wellbeing and pastoral responsibilities teachers now face after the impact of Covid-19 and the mental health crisis in schools.

Entitled Teaching: A new reality, the report includes survey responses from more than 4,000 teachers, support staff, and school leaders working in UK schools.

Pointing to the increasing numbers of children living in poverty, it warns that “more than ever before, children arrive at school with significant needs that require attention before learning can take place”.

The teachers in the report confirm they are dealing with more non-academic matters than five years ago, including helping pupils with their emotions, talking about mental health, or discussing personal problems.

Teachers are offering significant social and welfare support for pupils and their families too, including:

  • Signposting families to local support services such as social housing
  • Buying items of school uniform for pupils or stationery
  • Cleaning dirty clothes
  • Preparing food for pupils who did not have any
  • Helping to resolve family conflicts

High on the list of additional responsibilities for teachers, were offering emotional support for pupils (62%), more acute behavioural needs (62%), SEND support (49%), supporting pupil welfare (48%), and liaison with public bodies including CAMHS, social workers, health, and police (25%).

At the same time, however, many teachers said they felt unprepared and untrained for taking on many of these responsibilities.

The result is that these extra duties are taking their toll on the mental health and wellbeing of school staff, with a majority describing themselves as “emotionally exhausted” and unable to “switch off” in the evenings.

It comes in the same week as Ofsted (2023) reported that high workloads for teachers are getting in the way of teachers accessing high-quality CPD, especially experienced teachers.

The report warns that time is often set aside for teacher development, “but other school responsibilities intervened”. The findings, based on survey responses from 2,000 teachers and visits to 44 schools, also shows that schools are increasingly prioritizing CPD on mental health and wellbeing.

Back in the Education Support report, we are warned: “In 2022 the Health and Safety Executive named the teaching profession as the third most stressful, behind public administration or defence and human health or social work. It also confirmed that education staff have higher than average rate of work related stress, depression or anxiety.”

A quarter of the survey respondents in the report said they were also working an additional four to six hours and 15% an additional seven to 10 hours a week due to these extra duties. This comes after recent government research reveals that teachers in England are working an average of almost 49 hours a week, schools leaders almost 57.

The report’s first recommendation to policy-makers states: “It’s time to decide whether schools are the front line of children’s services, or whether they are specialists in education.”

It adds: “The status quo is failing children and education staff. If we cannot provide this level of clarity, we should plan for increased attrition from and recruitment into the profession. The attractiveness of working in education is declining rapidly, due to the consequences of this lack of clarity.”

The report also calls for “well-resourced services for children and families” as well as teacher training that “reflects the reality of life in schools”.

Sinéad McBrearty, chief executive of Education Support, said that the work of teachers and education staff has “changed dramatically since 2020” and if we do not respond to this we risk ever-increasing levels of teacher burn-out.

She continued: “It has expanded beyond traditional pastoral care to include a huge range of support for children and young people who cannot access help through overwhelmed health or social care services.

“Policy-makers need to catch up with this new reality. The job that teachers are currently trained for does not match the daily reality of providing emotional and mental health support, resolving family conflict, and providing food and clothes. If we continue in this way, we will burn-out a generation of talented and dedicated staff. Future generations of children and young people will be even worse hit as the teacher retention and recruitment challenges worsen.”

Commenting on the findings, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “As a result of cuts to vital support services, school leaders and their staff increasingly end up acting as teachers, social workers and counsellors rolled into one, as they struggle to help families access stretched, under-funded provision like CAMHS. Due to the lack of specialist support available, school staff are too often left feeling helpless, drained and overworked, which in turn only serves the fuel the recruitment and retention crisis in education.”

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