Wellbeing alert: Half of teachers reporting symptoms of burn-out

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

Schools are on red alert for signs of burn-out among their teaching staff after alarming new research findings.

A study has found that half of teachers report permanently suffering from at least one of four recognised symptoms of burn-out since September.

Furthermore, 43 per cent of more than 1,000 teachers responding to researchers said that they have experienced all four symptoms at some point.

The study was carried out by YouGov TeacherTrack and commissioned by teacher wellbeing charity Education Support. The four symptoms of burn-out investigated by the research are:

  • A lack of energy or exhaustion in relation to their job (89 per cent of teachers in the survey said they experienced this “some or all of the time”; 29 per cent said they experienced this “all of the time”).
  • Negativity or cynicism related to the teaching profession (80 per cent; 31 per cent).
  • Reduced professional efficacy or ability to perform their job as expected (73 per cent; 14 per cent).
  • Mentally distanced from their job (59 per cent; 10 per cent).

It comes as previous Education Support research found that 46 per cent of teachers are considering leaving the profession this academic year because of the pressures on their health and wellbeing.

One teacher told researchers: “I’ve been teaching for five years and am incredibly passionate about what I do. However, my mental health has really suffered in the past year to the point of burning myself out and having to take a month off sick when I hit crisis point. I was working myself into the ground and not prioritising my wellbeing. Support and medication have helped me through.”

The problem is also affecting school leaders. Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the findings reflected what they were hearing from members on the ground.

“Morale is very low and we know many are considering leaving the profession. Even before the pandemic there were significant existing challenges like heavy workload, the high-stakes nature of the job and a decade of salaries falling in real terms. But this has been exacerbated hugely by the lack of trust and support for leaders shown by the government over the past year.”

Mr Whiteman said the NAHT’s own research saw three-quarters of their members cite the government’s constantly changing pandemic guidance as their biggest challenge of the last year; nearly half said they were less likely to stay in leadership for as long as planned following the pandemic.

He added: “There is now a real risk that we will see an exodus of leaders from the profession once the crisis is over. Despite the increased pressure on them, school leaders have stuck to their task. Up until now the government has not really had to face the consequences of its lack of support for leaders during the pandemic. But unless the government acts urgently to make school leadership an attractive proposition for teaching professionals the school leadership supply pipeline is going to run dry.”

Sinéad Mc Brearty, CEO of Education Support, said: “Thousands of teachers up and down the country are exhausted. School and college staff have worked around the clock to configure remote learning, support the social and emotional needs of pupils and to cover significant amounts of staff absence due to Covid. School and college staff continue to roll their sleeves up. They want to do their best for children and young people. But it an unavoidable fact that over time, prolonged stress, anxiety and fatigue can lead to burn-out.

“This is now becoming more and more true in our classrooms. We need to recognise this reality and properly resource schools and colleges to do what is being asked of them. This is not about being soft and fluffy, it’s about ensuring that the education workforce is properly equipped and supported to do their best work.”

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