Teachers have taken at least 1.5 million days off work due to stress and mental health problems, new figures have revealed, amid ongoing concerns about the growing pressures they face in the classroom.
With long-standing concerns about workloads and growing class sizes, new data is seen by watchdog suggests that the number of days lost due to mental health problems in some council-controlled schools in England and Wales has increased by 7% since last year. It has also increased by almost a fifth compared to three years ago.
The data came in response to freedom of information requests provided by 143 of the 152 local education authorities in England and Wales. In total, over seven million teacher days have been lost due to stress and mental health problems in the last five years. They showed a steady growth, emphasizing the pressures that the pandemic exerts on the teaching staff.
Some areas seemed to be more affected. Kent saw 91,679 missed school days in 2021-2022, more than anywhere else in the country. Hampshire saw the number of days taken out for mental health rise to 28,945 in 2021-22, a third more than the year before.
Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman who revealed the figures, said she feared there was a growing mental health epidemic among teachers.
“Very much teachers are facing burnout from unsustainable workloads and relentless pressure,” she said. “Parents will rightly be concerned about the dire impact it could have on our children’s education and wellbeing.
“The new education secretary must set out a clear plan to reverse the damage done by years of damage to teachers’ mental health and wellbeing and to help recruit and retain the staff we need. The Covid inquiry must also examine the impact the government’s mishandling of the pandemic has had on the mental health of teachers and other frontline workers.”
It comes as teaching leaders warn that work pressures, combined with an offer of below-inflation pay rises, will intensify a crisis in teacher retention. Most have been offered a 5% pay rise next year – higher than the original offer of 3%, but well below the inflation rate of 9.1%. Starting salaries will increase by 8.9%. Unions have said they will consult with their members about possible industrial action in the autumn as a result of the offer. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the 5% increase offered to most teachers would be “a total reduction in real terms of nearly 12% since 2010.” Schools will have to fund the increase from existing budgets.
Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said stress and poor mental health had become “a really significant problem”. She said: “The biggest problem is workload and this is often cited, alongside pay, as one of the main reasons we have a very high staff turnover rate in education, with 40% of teachers leaving within 10 years of qualification .
“During the pandemic, schools and staff had to do a lot of extra work. All of this will have left many staff feeling burnt out and we are also hearing that some have come out of the pandemic to reassess their work/life balance and leave teaching. This is a major concern because the teacher shortage situation is already quite dire and looks likely to worsen.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The Government is failing to address the issues of unacceptable workloads, large class sizes, punitive measures of accountability, stress and the pay needed to ensure that teaching is a profession that is also attractive to graduates. and that keeps experienced teachers in the post”.
A Whitehall official said the forthcoming Covid inquiry included a pledge to examine the impact on the country’s mental health. A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “We are extremely grateful for the continued efforts of teachers and school leaders in supporting students, particularly during the pandemic. We are taking action to support teachers to stay in the profession and thrive. This includes increasing pay and launching the Education Staff Wellbeing Charter, which is committed to reducing unnecessary teacher workload, protecting flexible working and improving access to wellbeing resources.”