PA0137

Written evidence submitted by Education Support

  1. About Education Support
  2. Why we are submitting evidence
  3. Teachers’ roles have already expanded beyond just teaching
  4. Stress and overwhelm
  5. Impact of stressed teachers on children
  6. Conclusion

 

  1. About Education Support

Established by teachers for teachers, Education Support has been supporting teachers and education staff for 146 years.

Our mission is to improve the mental health and wellbeing of teachers and education staff. We believe that better mental health leads to better education.

We support individuals and help schools, colleges and universities to improve the mental health and wellbeing of their staff. We also carry out research and advocate for changes in Government policy for the benefit of the education workforce, using our unique combination of expertise in the education sector and mental health and wellbeing.  

Our services

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/

 

  1. Why we are submitting evidence

 

Following the pandemic there has rightly been a strong emphasis on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people, and this must remain in sharp focus. Mental health and psychological safety issues play a significant role in the persistent absence of children, with children in the most disadvantaged areas, or with the additional needs, often most at risk.[1] The committee will be well aware of the rising incidence of children facing mental health challenges, and its link to persistent absence.

The social and emotional needs of children and young people in our schools has increased since the pandemic. Teachers and schools staff are left trying to support their pupil in areas of mental health where they are neither adequately supported nor trained. This is having a significant negative impact on teachers and schools staff, who are at risk of burnout.

The mental health and wellbeing of the educators who are with children and young people every day, must be taken into consideration if we are to do the best for children and young people. The mental health and wellbeing of both teachers and their pupils must not be viewed in isolation, or we are only able to address part of the picture. When it comes to educational outcomes, and improving mental health and persistent absence in schools, the emotional health and wellbeing of educators must be a factor.

Any plans to address persistent absence, such as the provision of after-school clubs, additional support for families and improved data collection, inevitably have an impact on the workforce. While teachers and school staff are dedicated to supporting their pupils, there are many factors outside of their control that contribute to the persistent absence of pupils, such as the level of parental engagement, and the persistent under-resourcing of schools. It is essential that teachers and school staff are mentally and emotionally well enough to support their pupils, whilst remembering that their primary responsibility is to educate children, rather than provide mental health or social work support. Any solutions that involve the supervision of pupils outside of class time, must be resourced in a sustainable way that doesn’t see the capacity of teachers and school staff squeezed further.

 

  1. Teachers’ roles have already expanded beyond just teaching

 

We know from our own research, and from direct conversations with our service users that there is a massively increased level of need in schools, and teachers and schools staff are often left struggling and unsupported trying to meet it. CAMHS and social services are also under significant pressure and cannot meet the current level of need in the system.[2] Teachers have a strong sense of dedication and moral purpose - we found in 2021 that 77% of teachers had clear sense of purpose when starting work as educators and most kept this sense of purpose during their careers[3].  They are going above and beyond to try to meet the needs of their pupils, even if it falls well outside of their usual job description. A participant in our 2022 Teacher Wellbeing Index research told us:

[Throughout the pandemic] Wetook on a huge increase in student mental health and safeguarding concerns as best as we could…. dealing with police, social services, and psychiatrists etc. to keep our students safe was exhausting and at times very upsetting.

Head/Deputy Head of Year, Academy, London

Our recent research (reported on in The Times in December 2022) provided new data on the extent to which teachers are currently going above and beyond their classroom duties:

 

  1. Stress and overwhelm

 

These findings paint a picture of a workforce that is committed to going above and beyond to keep children not just in school, but also well enough to learn, despite not being trained or supported in this area. Unfortunately this often comes at significant personal cost, with many leaving the sector entirely.  Recent statistics from our most recent Teacher Wellbeing Index (2022)[4] indicate:

 

In a recent focus group with senior leaders for our Commission on Teacher Retention, they brought up recruitment issues without prompting, saying it contributes to a “pressure cooker” of other challenges, ultimately leading to staff attrition. They described how:

 

Staff vacancies mean other teachers, particularly early career teachers, have to cover lessons (and/or schools must pay for external supply cover). This removes allocated PPA (planning, preparation and assessment) time and adds to the workload pressures of other teachers. Pupil behaviour often worsens without the continuity, routine and structure of a regular and trusted teacher. Together, this has an impact on staff wellbeing which in turn results in further absences with teachers needing time off or going off sick with stress. In some cases, the workload pressure is too much and they end up leaving. Complaints and negative stories appear on social media and in the papers. The school’s reputation may plummet, in turn, potential applicants are discouraged from working at the school (as teachers, teaching assistants or support staff).

 

The long-term health implications for anyone living with chronic stress are well evidenced. Heart disease, diabetes and stroke risk all increase when living in permanent ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ mode, which is where many teachers and educators are.[7] The human body is not built to sustain this for long periods. Yet this is the everyday reality for the people who are working to guide and inspire the next generation. This picture of stress and feeling overwhelmed in schools has a direct impact on children – who are neither oblivious nor immune to the stresses in schools[8] – and their ability to learn.

 

  1. Impact of stressed teachers on children

 

Teachers are under immense pressure and are reporting high levels of stress, and generally poor wellbeing as evidenced above. This in turn is leading to staff presenteeism – being present but not fully functioning due to being unwell. Our Teacher Wellbeing Index reported that 61% of school leaders and 45% of school teachers always go to work when unwell.  Teachers often tell us that they feel compelled to always go to work when unwell due to a sense of moral duty, but also guilt at letting colleagues and pupils down. Many have told us that it’s simply easier to attend when unwell, due to the effort required to communicate their absence to colleagues and to arrange alternative teaching cover for their lessons.

It’s just not worth having the day off ill as a teacher, because it’s way more hassle than it’s worth. Head of Subject at a Secondary School

The pressure of the role and presenteeism can lead to reduced effectiveness of staff, as highlighted by these quotes from our recent focus groups with school middle leaders:

“It gets to the point that you just don’t have the energy left… you’ve got more demands, more pressure on you. You’re not as enthusiastic as you were, and then, boom, this extra work gets put on top. It’s just too much.” AP teacher at a Primary School

“I’ve seen a lot of teachers and TAs crying at school over the pressures, and I’ve seen lots of people being sent [home] on long term stress.” EYFS Lead at a Primary School

“I’ve seen people’s mental health deteriorate, and them becoming not as good at their job as they were when they first started.” Head of Year at a Secondary School

 

Reduced effectiveness of staff can be picked up by pupils, and lead to additional behaviour challenges, which in turn puts more pressure on teachers. In addition, our Middle Leader focus groups found a consistent belief that pupils do not learn effectively when being taught by staff covering the lessons, which leads to more work further down the line.

 

“You know when you come back, the cover is probably not going to have been done. And you’re going to have to reteach it to the kids because they won’t have listened or understood it.” SENCO at a Secondary School

 

While high rates of presenteeism may sound like an issue that leads to less staff absence, it actually has the opposite effect in the long run. At the moment, many schools are facing challenges with high rates of staff churn and long-term sickness absence due to stress. According to a recent Freedom of Information request, teachers have spent at least 1.5 million days off work owing to stress and mental health issues.  For some schools this represents a 7% increase on the previous year[9]This leaves many classes being covered by supply or other colleagues who are already stretched.

This is leading to an overall picture of weaker relationships between staff and pupils, which negatively affects pupil’s ability to learn, and their wellbeing, as detailed below.

 

Epistemic trust

Peter Fonaghy is a leading psychoanalyst, clinical psychologist and CEO of the Anna Freud Centre for Children and Families[10]. He has written and talked extensively on the idea that children learn best when they feel emotionally safe, and seen as an individual. He refers to this state as ‘epistemic trust’. It is in this state of safety that the vulnerable act of learning can best take place. The child must feel that the caregiver or teacher recognises him or her as an individual and as a thinking and feeling individual with personal agency, in order for epistemic trust to be built, and learning to take place.[11]

Conversely, a child who feels unsafe and unrecognized is more likely to feel distrustful, and less likely to gauge new information as relevant and worth learning. This is referred to as ‘epistemic vigilance’.  This state is more likely to exist in children and young people who lack trust in the consistency and competence of their primary caregivers. This could, for example, include those where abuse, substance misuse, poverty or other sources of trauma exist.

It is difficult to see how children and young people are able to consistently reach a state of epistemic trust when they are so frequently taught by staff who are highly stressed, working in a ‘pressure cooker’ environment or experiencing burnout. This is especially true of those children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds or those with additional needs that may regularly hold them in a state of high alert. 

 

Staff engagement and pupil wellbeing

Not only does poor teacher mental health have a relationship to children and young people’s ability to learn, but there is increasing evidence that it affects pupil wellbeing too. Impact Ed recently published Working Well: exploring staff engagement and pupil wellbeing in English schools https://www.impacted.org.uk/impactinpractice.

The research indicates that staff engagement and pupil wellbeing are correlated, with teachers’ perceptions of school behaviour systems being the factor most associated with pupil wellbeing. Leadership and management was also strongly associated with pupil wellbeing.

Staff engagement was determined through a combination of answers to questions on:

-          Staff perception: overall view of their school and likelihood to recommend it. This includes a question on ‘staff satisfaction’, which we use as a point of reference throughout.

-          The school environment: views on the quality of the environment in which they work, including support from leaders and managers, the quality of their professional relationships, the built environment around them, and opportunities for progression.

-          The nature of their work: views on workload, their work-life balance, preparedness to teach, and systems for controlling behaviour.

 

Correlations were found between staff engagement and pupil wellbeing, with classroom behaviour the driver most associated with pupil wellbeing.

The correlation between pupil wellbeing and the three key areas of staff engagement covered by the survey show that:

-          nature of work had the strongest correlation (0.57),

-          followed by staff perception (0.44),

-          and school environment (0.42).

 

This suggests that in schools where staff perceive the nature of their work more positively pupil wellbeing tends to be higher. It therefore benefits no one – least of all children and young people – to overload teachers and ask them to power through. Teachers with unmanageable workloads and a poor work-life balance likely have fewer emotional resources available to make pupils safe and seen, in a way that promotes both their wellbeing and their learning.

Impact Ed concludes the section on staff engagement in the Working Well report by stating:

“The data does suggest that school leaders should avoid thinking about the wellbeing of their pupils and of their staff in isolation. Strategies that promote pupil wellbeing at the expense of staff welfare may be counterproductive, but similarly challenges with pupil wellbeing can create significant stresses for staff. Where possible, they should be considered side by side.”

An approach that supports the wellbeing of teachers and educators is vital to give children and young people the best possible start in life.

 

  1. Conclusion

 

Persistent absence from school among children and young people is a complex issue. While guidance and support from Government is important, every schools and every child is different. It is vital that solutions to the problem respond to the local context.

Inevitably the workforce will be part of the solution, due to their regular contact with pupils they are often the first to spot issues or concerns. In order to effectively implement strategies to reduce absence among the most vulnerable pupils, teachers must be mentally and emotionally well enough to build relationships and develop trust with the pupils. They must also be well enough to be in school themselves, and deliver high-quality education first and foremost.

The systemic drivers of staff stress in the education system (as noted above) are driving the recruitment and retention crisis which means that pupils – especially those in the most deprived areas – are more likely to see regular churn in teachers or be taught by cover staff. This can lead to inconsistencies, reduced quality of learning, and less secure relationships between pupils and staff.

With pressures on CAMHs and social services, the expansion of teachers’ roles to include additional pastoral and caring responsibilities puts staff at risk of chronic stress and burnout. Support for staff taking on these added responsibilities is needed in the short-term. But training teachers to be therapists or social workers by stealth is not the answer either. All services designed to support and protect children and young people must be adequately resourced and funded to provide high quality services, as soon as they are needed.

February 2023

 

 

 

 


[1] https://mentallyhealthyschools.org.uk/risks-and-protective-factors/school-based-risk-factors/absenteeism/#:~:text=Children%20and%20young%20people%20with,socially%20isolated%20as%20a%20result Accessed on 31 January 2023

[2] https://www.youngminds.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/mental-health-waiting-times-harming-young-people/ & https://www.communitycare.co.uk/2022/03/25/caseloads-bigger-more-complex-and-harder-to-manage-say-childrens-social-workers/ both accessed 31 January 2023

[3] Scanlan, D and Savill-Smith (2021).  “Teacher Wellbeing Index (2021)”,  https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/media/qzna4gxb/twix-2021.pdf

[4] https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/media/zoga2r13/teacher-wellbeing-index-2022.pdf

[5] ONS (2020). “Coronavirus and anxiety Great Britain: 3 April 2020 to 10 May 2020”. Office for National Statistics. Release date 15 June 2020. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/

coronavirusandanxietygreatbritain/3april2020to10may2020

[6] ONS (2021). “Coronavirus and depression in adults, Great Britain: July to August 2021”. Office for National Statistics. Release date 1 October 2021. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/

coronavirusanddepressioninadultsgreatbritain/julytoaugust2021

[7] Nagoski, Emily & Amelia (2020), Burnout, Vermillion London

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/jan/31/teachers-strike-underfunding-our-school-political-pay accessed 31 January 2023

[9] Savage, M (2022).  “Teacher sick days soar as poor conditions take toll on mental health”.  The Observer, 31 July 2022.  https://www.theguardian.com/education/2022/jul/31/teacher-sick-days-soar-as-poor-conditions-take-toll-on-mental-health

[10] https://www.annafreud.org/training/training-and-conferences-overview/tutors/f/professor-peter-fonagy/

[11] Robbie Duschinsky and Sarah Foster, Mentalizing and Epistemic Trust: the work of Peter Fonaghy and colleagues at the Anna Freud Centre (2021) Oxford University Press