The health of the school workforce

The Teacher Wellbeing Index, now in its sixth year, unambiguously demonstrates the need to act on the wellbeing of the staff in our schools. Andrew Cowley explains the latest findings

At a time when many teachers and leaders are taking strike action over pay, and schools are struggling to recruit and retain staff, the challenges faced by our schools are immense.
The Teacher Wellbeing Index report shows that these challenges go beyond levels of remuneration, but include some serious implications for the mental and physical health of all school staff.
The latest report shows that 75 per cent of all staff report being stressed, and 84 per cent of school leaders.
Forty-seven per cent of staff reported to have been to work whilst unwell. This rises to sixty-one per cent for school leaders.
Fifty-nine per cent of staff are not confident to disclose unmanageable stress or mental health issues to their employer.
What’s more, 59 per cent of staff have considered leaving the sector; this rises to 67 per cent for senior leaders. Meanwhile, 55 per cent of staff and 58 per cent of school leaders have actively sought to change or leave their current position.

The stark realities for schools lie in the last point: over half your colleagues may be looking to leave by the end of this academic year. Given that DfE statistics show that one in eight teachers leave in their first year of teaching, and that less than 70 per cent are still teaching after five years in the profession, the question to ask is not only how we fill this gap, but also how we look after the mental health and wellbeing of teachers and education staff.
Although there are always stresses in any workplace, high levels of stress seem to have been normalised in teaching, driven in many cases by excessive paperwork, a target-driven culture, unreasonable demands and poor pupil behaviour. The above statistics suggest that many staff feel that their mental health is not a being properly looked after and school cultures are negatively impacting upon them and their health and wellbeing.

Health implications of stress

Stress might be ‘hidden’ but it impacts bodies and behaviours in ways that makes it all too visible. It can cause some people to overeat, others to undereat. Stress can lead to angry outbursts or social withdrawal, which may be out of character. Lack of sleep or interrupted sleep can also result. High levels of stress can also lead to a reliance on alcohol, tobacco, prescription or even recreational drugs as a crutch.
Headaches, muscle pains and tension, chest pains, stomach upsets and a general feeling of fatigue can result from stress. Fatigue also means that those in a stressful situation may find their time and motivation for physical E exercise is diminished or non-existent. Mood changes due to stress include a lack of motivation and focus, a sense of unease and being overwhelmed and irritable, not only in the workplace but with friends and loved ones too. This is often missed as a wellbeing consideration: behind every stressed colleague is a family, a spouse or partner, parents and children who also feel the impact of stress.
If we have staff working at higher levels of stress than the national average and especially if anxiety and depression are going to result from this, then this may result in long term absences, which may be difficult to cover especially if there are several occurrences in an individual school. This has a further impact upon colleagues who are present, but facing a greater challenge taking on the key responsibilities of those absent and unwell.


Stress, poor mental health in general, anxiety and depression in particular; these are long term health issues, not something that can be given a quick fix, but requires a culture shift where colleagues can feel supported and trusted.
In combination with real term budget cuts, an unfunded pay rise and the likelihood of strike action, schools enter 2023 with a picture showing little meaningful change since the first Teacher Wellbeing Index in 2017. The significant decline in the wellbeing of school support staff, also our poorest paid colleagues, is of especial concern. A great teaching assistant is a lifesaver for a teacher and the class, but if they can have less stress and a higher wage in another work environment, it is little wonder that many vacancies remain unfilled.
Sinead McBrearty, the CEO of Education Support Partnership says in her foreword to this years Index: “We have a duty of care to future generations of children and young people to retain passionate, talented teachers and leaders,” adding that stress and overwork appears to be normalised in the education sector.
Whether you are a school leader, governor, class teacher, teaching assistant, MAT CEO, Ofsted inspector or school adviser, please read the Teacher Wellbeing Index 2022, and think about the implications in your setting and upon the adults and children you work with.

Andrew Cowley is the author of ‘The Wellbeing Toolkit’ and ‘The Wellbeing Curriculum’, a coach for the School Mental Health Award and the Designated Mental Health Leaders programme at Carnegie Centre of Excellence, Leeds Beckett University, and a former teacher and deputy headteacher. Find Andrew on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter: @andrew_cowley23.

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