Blog post Part of series: Researching education and mental health: From ‘Where are we now?’ to ‘What next?’
Teacher wellbeing: A systemic perspective
Education Support is the mental health and wellbeing charity of the education sector. We provide accredited counselling and welfare support to individuals, wellbeing services that enable schools and colleges to support their staff, and research to underpin our advocacy for healthier education workplaces.
Our most recent research, Teacher Wellbeing Index 2019 (Education Support, 2019), paints a stark picture of ill health in the sector:
- 78 per cent of teachers and 84 per cent of senior leaders report stress
- 78 per cent of the workforce experienced behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms (such as insomnia, mood swings, tearfulness, panic attacks)
- 34 per cent of the workforce experienced a mental health issue last year
- the wellbeing of education professionals is markedly lower than the general population (WEMWBS score of 44.7 compared to 49.85 for England (NHS Digital, 2017).
We believe that the health of the education workforce matters for several reasons, including the following.
First, from a socioeconomic perspective, high teacher turnover has a disproportionately significant impact on pupil outcomes in more deprived areas (Miller, 2008). If most children spend a material amount of time in environments with high levels of stress, how will that shape our society?
Second, within the education system itself, teacher retention is falling and annual teacher recruitment levels have been below government targets since 2011 (Foster, 2019). Stress and poor working conditions are consistently cited by those leaving the profession. Using the Thriving at Work cost model (Monitor Deloitte, 2017), we estimate that poor mental health costs the education sector at least £2.6 billion each year.
Third, within schools, leadership style and culture directly shape staff experience. Some leaders are fantastic, routinely demonstrating care for their staff. There are also leaders who place a greater priority on short-term results and accept poor staff wellbeing as a necessary cost of delivering target outcomes.
Fourth, within the classroom, the teacher/student relationship is a key influence on pupil outcomes (Hattie, 2009). A classroom of a stressed, overwhelmed, unsupported teacher will be very different to that of a supported teacher with a strong sense of professional autonomy and self-efficacy: pupils are unlikely to be best served by a desensitised, emotionally exhausted workforce.
Finally, at the individual level, wellbeing and mental health matter. Personal resilience is eroded by difficult experiences, unhealthy workplaces with poor leadership, lack of self-efficacy, lack of colleague support, persistent behavioural issues with pupils, and so on (Day & Gu, 2014).
Education is a social system full of interrelationships, dynamics, feedback loops, unintended outcomes, mess, complexity and humanity. Staff wellbeing matters at every level of this system. For improvement, we need to achieve the following.
- In policy terms – acknowledgement of the emotional load embedded in modern teaching; recognition that poor mental health can diminish personal performance; and investigation into how policy can support positive mental health and a strong self-efficacy across education.
- At the institutional level – development of coherent emotionally intelligent leadership practice, to promote trusting, collegiate, open cultures. Leaders should be supported to interpret external requirements in a healthy way and avoid creating an ethos of performativity.
- At the individual level – self-care should be normalised and the workforce actively encouraged to prioritise healthy practices (emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually). We need to be clear about what we truly value.
Day, C., & Gu, Q. (2014). Resilient teachers, resilient schools. London: Routledge.
Education Support. (2019). Teacher wellbeing index 2019. London. Retrieved from https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/sites/default/files/teacher_wellbeing_index_2019.pdf
Foster, D. (2019). Teacher recruitment and retention in England. House of Commons Library briefing paper. London. Retrieved from https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7222
Hattie, J. A. C. (2019). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.
Miller, R. (2008). Tales of teacher absence. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from https://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/issues/2008/10/pdf/teacher_absence.pdf
Monitor Deloitte. (2017). Mental health and employers: The case for investment. London. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/public-sector/deloitte-uk-mental-health-employers-monitor-deloitte-oct-2017.pdf
NHS Digital. (2017). Health Survey for England 2016 – Well-being and mental health. London. Retrieved from http://healthsurvey.hscic.gov.uk/media/63763/HSE2016-Adult-wel-bei.pdf