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Mental health and wellbeing among trainee teachers

Kate Russell, University of East Anglia

There is growing concern regarding the mental health and wellbeing of teachers in the UK. The charity Education Support Partnership recently published the Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018, which found that two-in-five newly qualified teachers (NQTs) experience mental health problems. Of NQTs and those who have been in the profession for less than five years, 52 per cent have indicated that they considered leaving teaching because of health and wellbeing pressures. The study also showed that NQTs are more likely than more experienced colleagues to have experienced a mental health issue in the last 12 months (ESP, 2018).

Other research has shown that between 25 and 45 per cent of beginning teachers are also likely to leave the teaching profession in their first five years (Ewing & Smith, 2003; Day and Gu, 2010). Factors such as resilience and relationship-building (between colleagues as well as between teachers and pupils) are regarded as key factors in supporting wellbeing for newly qualified teachers (Le Cornu, 2013). This is often situated within a school education system in which quality induction programmes into full-time teaching are relatively absent, with the philosophy of ‘sink or swim’ and learning by ‘trial and error’ (Howe, 2006) often leaving new teachers struggling.

With the UK government’s Department for Education (DfE) publishing its Teacher recruitment and retention strategy earlier in 2019 (DfE, 2019a), there is a growing awareness of the need to support current teaching staff as well as those about to enter the profession. In particular, chapter 2 of that strategy document – ‘Transforming support for early career teachers’ – explicitly focusses on the challenge of keeping new teachers in the profession long enough to develop a successful career. As a result, the Early Career Framework (DfE, 2019b) identifies a range of entitlements in a funded two-year package for NQTs to support their transition into the profession. The framework includes a dedicated mentor and a reduced timetable, as well as access to other curricula and training materials.

This is to be applauded on many levels. Yet when we look closer at the support provided for mental health and wellbeing explicitly, the framework only includes one mention of this in relation to teachers (as opposed to pupil-focussed material) (DfE 2019b). Wellbeing appears under the last of the eight ‘standards’ – ‘Professional Behaviours’, in which teachers are asked to fulfil their wider professional responsibilities. The framework suggests that teachers will need to learn to manage workload and wellbeing, by:

  • using and personalising systems and routines to support efficient time and task management
  • understanding the right to support (to deal with misbehaviour, for example)
  • collaborating with colleagues to share the load of planning and preparation and making use of shared resources (such as textbooks)
  • protecting time for rest and recovery (DfE 2019b). 

The framework doesn’t suggest how these things should be done. However, just this month, the DfE released a statement regarding its desire to drive ‘real change’ in support of teachers’ wellbeing, alongside the creation of the mental health and wellbeing advisory group that will aim to support the retention and recruitment strategy of schoolteachers.

There also remain concerns about what happens in relation to supporting trainees within their training contexts. While Ofsted will be initiating its new inspection framework for schools (Ofsted, 2019) from September 2019, there are also ongoing consultations for a new initial teacher education framework. This could consider how higher education institutions (HEIs) are going to support positive mental health and wellbeing in trainee teachers at the institutional level, and how partnership work with schools and other training sites can support this work too. At present we don’t know what HEIs are currently delivering in this area for trainee teachers.

‘We want to consider what’s needed and then work towards possible interventions to support mental health and wellbeing for future trainees in preparation for a life in teaching.’

Colleagues at University of East Anglia are conducting a project about the mental health and wellbeing provided to trainee teachers within UK university-led teacher training courses. The Mental Health and Wellbeing in Trainee Teachers project is specifically about the provision of mental health and wellbeing support for trainees to support themselves, rather than as curricular knowledge for working with pupils in their future classrooms. Ultimately we would like to be able to consider what is needed and then work towards possible interventions to support mental health and wellbeing for future trainees in preparation for a life in teaching, in whatever form that might take.

We are asking initial teacher education providers, trainee teachers (including those who may have just graduated this year) and mentor teachers (who work in partnership schools), about their perceptions of the need for and scope of this aspect of teacher training. If you would like to participate, or know of individuals who might wish to participate, in an anonymous online survey and/or interview about this aspect you can find the details here.

The project team would very much appreciate it if BERA Blog readers and BERA members could disseminate this material on our behalf.

References

Day, C. & Gu, Q. (2010). New Lives of Teachers. London: Routledge.

Department for Education [DfE] (2019a). Teacher recruitment and retention strategy. London. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/786856/DFE_Teacher_Retention_Strategy_Report.pdf

Department for Education [DfE] (2019b, January). Early Career Framework. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/773705/Early-Career_Framework.pdf

Education Support Partnership [ESP] (2018). Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018. London. Retrieved from: https://www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk/sites/default/files/teacher_wellbeing_index_2018.pdf

Ewing, R. A. & Smith, D. L. (2003). Retaining quality beginning teachers in the profession. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 2(1), 15–32.

Howe, E. R. (2006). Exemplary teacher induction: An international review. Educational Philosophy & Theory, 38(3), 287–297.

Le Cornu, R. (2013). Building early career teacher resilience: The role of relationships. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 38(4). http://dx.doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2013v38n4.4

Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills [Ofsted] (2019, May). Education inspection framework. London. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/801429/Education_inspection_framework.pdf