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Teachers’ Mental Health on World Mental Health Day

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The arrival of World Mental Health Day is the perfect opportunity to address the struggles of teachers across the globe.

Saturday 10th October marks World Mental Health Day: a calendar entry and awareness programme to support the mental illness issues that affect around one in four people every year. From common problems such as depression and anxiety, to other long-term illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, stress is one of the major contributing factors to ill health – and as one of the most stressful professions, educators are disproportionately affected.

Here are five ways that schools, teachers and Governments can work together to drive positive mental health in the education sector.

5 Ways to Improve Teacher Mental Health

  1. Identify the Underlying Problems

A report published in January 2020 found that 1 in 20 teaching staff are currently suffering long-lasting mental health problems. Whilst 5% may seem small, this number has increased from just 1% in the past two decades. The report does not include those who suffer intermittently or who have experienced or who currently experience one or more short-term problems.

The report also suggests that a third of new teaching recruits are changing career paths within five years. Recent Department for Education (DfE) research found that ‘sleeping problems, panic attacks and anxiety issues’ had contributed to the high NQT attrition rate.

Understanding the reasons behind underlying wellbeing problems is the first step to addressing them, and preventing future challenges for other staff members. Common reasons behind poor wellbeing in the education sector include:

  • Widening Ratio Between Staff and Class Size – Whilst secondary pupil numbers in 2019 were the same as in 2007, the numbers of teaching staff fell by 7%. Secondary pupil numbers are predicted to rise by 10% in the next three years, meaning shortages are increasingly pressurising existing staff.
  • Workload – More than two thirds of education professionals describe themselves as stressed at work
  • Subject/Department Support – Staff exit rates are far higher in understaffed subjects such as Maths, Sciences and MFL, which lose up to half of all teachers after five years
  • Additional Support Required for Disadvantaged Students – Teaching staff in disadvantaged Secondary schools take 50% more sick leave than those in more affluent schools every year, equating to an extra 100 days lost to sickness annually.

If Heads and Principals can pinpoint the specific challenges of their school and individual departments that are affecting staff wellbeing, they can take a more targeted approach to solving the problem.

  1. Prevent Burnout Before it Happens

A proactive approach to identifying teacher stress and burnout can help prevent problems worsening. High stress levels, which are the precursor to many mental illnesses, can be identified by training Heads of Department and management to regularly check and report on external signs of stress in their colleagues, which include:

  • Trouble with decision-making
  • Constant worrying
  • Avoidance of certain situations or tasks
  • Prolonged anger, sadness or hopelessness
  • Social disengagement
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Restlessness
  • Crying or tearfulness.

Staff surveys can measure the general attitudes of the entire school workforce across areas such as workload, support and development, and tracked over time to discover and act upon negative patterns. Facilitating regular one-to-one meetings between teachers and their managers ensures a safe space for staff to air their worries and discuss solutions, and for managers to spot indicators of stress and provide support accordingly.

  1. Get Free Government Support

The UK Government have recently launched an £8million programme to boost pupil and teacher wellbeing. The new training scheme aims to improve wellbeing and mental health support in schools and colleges through online webinars, resources and training courses. Whilst the first phase of the scheme is focused on helping schools to support the emotional wellbeing of their students, the training courses will provide an invaluable asset in raising awareness, knowledge and communication around the importance of their own mental wellbeing for teachers across the country. 

Supplementary Government-funded programmes could also help to address the staff shortages that lead to increased workloads and larger class sizes. The DfE International Teacher Recruitment Programme provides state-funded support for Secondary schools and academies in England. Schools can access fully qualified and experienced staff across subject shortage areas including Maths, Science, Computer Science and MFL from the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • Jamaica
  • New Zealand
  • USA
  • South Africa
  • Spain

As an official DfE partner, Prospero Teaching have 20 years’ experience recruiting experienced teachers from all over the world into UK schools. Find out more about how we could help you

  1. School-Wide Awareness & Support from Heads

One of the most significant barriers to positive mental health is the reluctance of suffering individuals to ask for help – in the education sector, this is particularly prevalent. Education Support reports that, ‘Through a perceived notion of ‘commitment’ and ‘selflessness’ this group is failing to seek help

when they need it most.’

A top-down approach with the full support of Heads and Principals can help change attitudes and outcomes. School leaders can regularly communicate directly with staff to raise awareness of existing wellbeing initiatives and policies, reinforce their support for staff who come forward with mental health challenges, and encourage open-mindedness and communication between colleagues.

Heads can also champion the importance of mental wellbeing in education by introducing and promoting initiatives such as: 

  • Mentoring – Formally pairing junior teachers with their more experienced colleagues, across departments, to provide an objective touchpoint for the concerns of overworked NQTs
  • Support Networks – Build and encourage channels such as meetings, calls and online groups where colleagues can support each other
  • Education Support – Connecting with the charity that supports everyone working in the sector with counselling, an employee assistance programme and a free, confidential helpline for support over email, telephone and live chat

5. Partner a Specialist Recruitment Agency

The best education recruitment agencies are not only able to help with sourcing and placing high quality teaching staff, but also in supporting them through every step of their careers.

The experienced former teaching professionals who form the team at Prospero Teaching act as core partners for every teacher we recruit. Our in-house Learning & Development team provides everything from face-to-face classroom training and online courses to subject-specific handbooks, careers guidance and regular phone contact with every individual.

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