Every year we lose millions of teaching days through sickness. But it isn’t just the pupils who are getting sick. Teachers suffer too. Many dedicated staff members take early retirement on the grounds of ill health, and schools faced with an absentee workforce will foot the bill for expensive cover teaching and locum staff. This is before you factor in the disruption to learning.
What's going on? Around 31% of teachers are experiencing problems with their mental health in the last academic year, a study by the charity ESP (Educational Support Partnership) has revealed. Up to 50% of teachers are reported as suffering from insomnia. A massive increase of around a third from previous years.
Teachers often still make it into school when they’re not feeling their best and it is well known that they fall ill as soon as the holidays begin. However, a high number of teachers are now off on long-term sick and this often feeds into the early retirement figures. Teachers, it seems, burn out before their time.
Nearly 60% of teachers have considered leaving the profession in the last two years as pressure on their health and wellbeing continues to mount. Even more worrying are the numbers that have reported turning to food (47%), alcohol (32%), and shopping (22%) to cope.
The survey also revealed a huge rise in the number of calls to the charity support line, 8600 this year alone. That’s a staggering jump of around 35%, an indication that something bad is definitely happening across the entire education sector.
We know that stress can be linked to headaches and stomach complaints; so whilst teachers may be complaining of headaches and stomach problems, these could actually come from the same root cause. It may be difficult for teachers to admit to feeling stressed or even to recognise some of the subtle signs of burnout in time to take evasive action. There is a very real chance stress levels might be underreported at present.
The anonymous survey of 1,500 included NQT (newly qualified teachers) support staff, head teachers and other professionals across the entire education sector and makes for grim reading. Many teachers are struggling with the emotional demands of their students alongside a system that prioritises increased amounts of testing. As teacher workload expands, a nation-wide mass exodus of talented teachers seems increasingly likely. Keeping teachers in the classroom ultimately saves everyone money in the long run. Nobody wins when the teachers suffer too.