As many will be aware, this week is Mental Health Awareness week. Perhaps less well publicised, last week was National Teacher Appreciation week. This has led me to reflect more on something that I’ve been thinking about for a while – the mental health of teachers.
While there has been no systematic investigation into the mental health of teachers across the UK, there is much anecdotal evidence about the stress that they and other school staff are under.
What’s more, the numbers of teachers leaving the profession might point to issues around stress and poor mental health.
In 2015 and 2016, the number of teachers leaving the profession exceeded the number entering for the first time. Particularly striking to me is the fact that one-fifth of people who were NQTs (newly qualified teachers) in 2014 were no longer working in the sector just two years later.
Workload levels and stress are pointed to as a major problem facing those trying to keep teachers in the profession, with two-thirds of school leaders in a recent survey reporting that workload was a barrier to teacher retention in their school.
Concerns about wellbeing
In a project we conducted for the Department for Education, the school and college staff we spoke to felt that they had a vital role to play in supporting children and young people’s mental health. They highlighted the large proportion of children’s time spent in their care, and the opportunities this gave them to build relationships and offer support to children and their families.
However, many of the teachers and school leaders were worried about staff emotional health and wellbeing. In particular, there were concerns about:
- The additional burden placed on staff by the expectation that teachers ought to identify and respond to children’s mental health needs, as well as providing an academic education.
- The emotional distress that can arise as a result of engaging with children and families’ experiencing difficult circumstances.
- The shock or guilt that staff can feel when they find out that pupils are experiencing mental health issues they had not picked up on.
- Poor mental health among staff is a concern in itself. Teachers suffering with stress and anxiety might also feel less able to support the children, young people and families they work with. Support for school staff is therefore of vital importance.
Pen portraits of provision
With stress being the key theme for Mental Health Awareness week this year, we hope that other schools and colleges might be inspired by the pen portraits of provision produced by our research, and find ideas for how they might support the mental health of their staff.
Many of the schools and colleges we spoke to had introduced successful ways of protecting and supporting the mental health of their staff, including:
- Providing direct mental health support for staff. This ranged from informal peer support to counselling.
- Offering clinical supervision for staff working closely with pupils and families with high level needs.
- Identifying external services that staff can refer to if parents and pupils are facing problems that are beyond their expertise or capabilities.
- Using training and professional development opportunities to equip and empower staff to better identify and respond to mental health needs.
- Drawing on internal and external specialists (for instance mental health leads, counsellors, and points of contact in NHS child and adolescent mental health services) to provide advice and reassure staff that they are responding in an appropriate way.
- Prioritising spending time and money on mental health provision, even where time and money are scarce, in recognition of this provision’s importance for both staff and students.
I also hope that this might spark a wider conversation about how school and college staff – like other professionals working with vulnerable children and young people – can be formally supported and supervised.
You can read our pen portraits of provision here.