When Alice enters Wonderland she discovers a bottle with a label that reads ‘DRINK ME.’ Worryingly, it turns out that head teachers and senior education leaders have found that bottle too. Unlike Alice, who simply needs to shrink herself down to the size of a very small door, education professionals are turning to alcohol to try and cope with stress and depression. Writing in the TES, Dave Speck reports that ‘The proportion of senior leaders showing signs of depression has risen from 25 per cent last year to 40 per cent this year.’
Heads, teachers and others working in education struggle to support the learning of children at their school desks whilst all the time the expectations and demands on them grow, and the resources they rely on become more strained. Is it any wonder that they are popping a cork in order to try and cope with day to day stress?
Recent research by the Education Support Partnership suggests that a third of all education staff used alcohol to manage stress in the workplace in 2017 (with headteachers and senior leaders at 37 per cent and teachers at 30 per cent). Many heads reported irritability, sleeplessness and even tears related to issues in the classroom or in managing their school or college.
Teaching can be incredibly rewarding. But it seems that heads and teachers are propping up the current education system by the sheer force of their own selfless commitment. And, increasingly, they are finding that they need to find something that will prop them up too.
So, what can be done to help education staff put boundaries around their own wellbeing? Heads are clear that they want better funding and resources for their education settings. So clear that, in September 2018, over 2000 of them protested over funding cuts on the streets of Westminster. Teachers want wages that reflect the demands on their time and allow them to buy a weekly shop and pay the rent. The whole education team have been telling us for years that the hours they work are just too long. 60 hours a week is not unusual, with no recompense for overtime. But with heads and teachers increasingly dispirited by never-ending proposals for changes which take time and resources to deliver, there seems to be no end in sight.
As Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
If you need help you can call The Teacher Support Line on freephone 0800 056 2561. For free posters and leaflets call 0207 554 5200.