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UK: Well-being of education professionals

Louise Magnard
December 2, 2020

On 26 November, Education Support issued its annual index on teacher wellbeing for 2020. Education Support was founded in 2015 but has roots that go back 140 years. It is a respected and authoritative organisation that focuses on mental health and wellbeing of teachers and other education professionals in the United Kingdom.

The report looks at stress and related issues in the context of COVID-19. However, it indicates that, “many of the teacher wellbeing issues highlighted in this report existed long before the pandemic struck. Our previous reports have demonstrated a consistent problem with teacher and educator wellbeing. This year has shown us that we are operating at the limit of what is possible within the available resources.”

Highlights of the 2020 Survey

The initial survey was conducted in June and July when schools were shut down. However, a second survey was conducted in October after schools had re-opened. It showed that:

  • 62% of teachers and 77% senior leaders reported being stressed or very stressed in July, when most education institutions were closed to all but the most vulnerable
  • 84% of teachers and 89% of senior leaders reported being stressed or very stressed in October when schools reopened.

The survey also showed a sharp increase in symptoms of poor mental health:

  • “52% said they had suffered from insomnia in the last year (compared to 37% in the last 2 years).
  • 41% tearfulness (compared to 26% in the last 2 years).
  • 40% had difficulty concentrating (compared to 23% in the last 2 years)”.  

Another problem, also accelerated by the pandemic, concerned staff retention:

  • “51% of teachers and 59% of senior leaders said they have considered leaving the profession this year due to pressures on their health and wellbeing. 
  • 68% of education professionals said the reason was the volume of workload (rising to 76% for senior leaders)”.

The message from the survey is clear; mental health has worsened as compared to the past. It is much more serious due to the pandemic, but it is part of a long trend. It has also become more difficult than in the past for staff to talk about it in school. Their lack of confidence and discomfort is despite an improvement in the availability of mental health services.  

Wellbeing of education professionals as an international issue

Education International’s member organisations have reported a leap in work-related stress during the pandemic, also caused by a combination of increased workload, adapting to new teaching methods, and health concerns. They have also often felt, as is shown in this survey, deep concern about their students not being connected enough with their education, losing motivation and not being able to have direct contact with educators or other students. Many of these concerns persist even where schools are open.  

The UK survey showed teachers’ concern about their status. Although it showed that they felt appreciated by significant majorities of colleagues, senior management, and parents, few felt recognised or appreciated by the UK government, education departments or the media.  That concern, however, is not restricted to the UK. 

One of the most disturbing results of the Education International survey of member organisations during the pandemic, confirmed by country reports, was how few were really involved or even consulted concerning measures to be taken to provide quality and safe education during the crisis.

Education International’s General Secretary David Edwards, reacted to the report saying, “although teachers in the UK have had high stress levels for a very long time, many of which are linked to government imposed education reforms, that does not mean that they are alone in their concerns about well-being or that the results of this survey are irrelevant to the education community as a whole.”

“Based on the experiences of our member organisations, Education International has focused on wellbeing for many years. We thought that governments were beginning to share our concerns, but many are apparently not. The OECD, for example, has had to drop its proposal for a teacher well-being study because no government would fund it.”

“Education International will continue to urge governments to put teacher well-being at the top of the agenda. They have to understand that confident, respected, education professionals are fundamental to successful student learning.”

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