The UK’s chronic teacher shortage is being made worse by an abundance of bureaucratic policies which are turning classroom leaders into uninspired penpusher. Unless the current obsession with cumbersome administration, excessive documentation and laborious number crunching is reversed, the UK will lose more dedicated educators and struggle to ensure there are enough teachers for the growing student population.
The health of the UK’s teachers is also being threatened by the stressful environments in modern schools. Arduous methods of recording progress and performance, as well as a heavier burden of written marking, have been introduced at schools across the UK with the sole purpose of pleasing Ofsted inspectors. The stresses of this heavy workload, alongside the primary role of actually preparing lessons and teaching pupils, is leading some teachers to become reliant on caffeine, alcohol or prescription drugs. The percentage of relationship breakdowns in teachers’ private lives has also increased, with workplace stress being a primary factor.
The most common ailment suffered by teachers was insomnia, which was recorded by 84 percent of those polled by the teaching union. Lethargy (54 per cent) and anxiousness (74 per cent) were other health disorders which were commonly reported by the country’s teachers.
The NASUWT poll also found that over half of respondents believed that their job satisfaction has declined over the past year, with less than 12 percent of respondents saying their job satisfaction had improved.
Another factor which is having a negative impact on the wellbeing of teachers is the number of hours they work each week. A report published by Education Policy Institute found that over half the teachers in England were working 40-58 hours a week and a fifth of the country’s teachers work at least 60 hours a week. These results indicate that teachers in England now work much longer hours than teachers elsewhere.
The prevalence of teachers’ excessive workloads was reinforced by the findings of the government’s Workload Challenge survey. Of the 44,000 educational professionals who responded to the survey, 89% indicated that they felt overwhelmed by their current workload. This overload was primarily caused by the quantity of marking and the amount of time spent recording data. Other concerns highlighted in the survey were; pay (45%), inspections (44%), curriculum reforms (42%) and pupil behaviour (40%).
In response to these findings, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and the Department for Education insisted it would work, “to tackle the issue of unnecessary workload which we know can lead to stress”. Although, without a clear plan of action, it remains uncertain how these good intentions will be achieved.
The amount of stress teachers are suffering under is also highlighted in recent statistics which conclude that teachers are among those most like to commit suicide as a result of workplace stress. There were 139 suicides among teaching and educational professionals last year, double the national average, and over 70 percent of these were recorded as primary and nursery school teachers. These alarming statistics show that teaching has become, ‘one of the most highly stressed occupations in the country.’
John Coe, from at the National Association for Primary Education (NATE), confirmed the suicide statistics were “highly worrying”. He added that pressures on teachers had increased in recent years as competition between schools had increased, and educational institutions were under pressure to exceed in inspections and national assessments.
Speaking to The Independent newspaper, Mr. Coe explained, “The impact of government policies and the maintenance of a highly competitive structure of schools — inspections, league tables and all the rest — of course leads to a lot of pressure.
“To hear that the suicide rate is so high among primary teachers is enormously worrying and I do hope that the stats are placed on the table in front of the Secretary of State for Education.”
The pressures which classroom teachers experience, are now pushing experienced professionals away from teaching at state schools. According to a survey conducted by the Guardian almost half of England’s teachers intend to quit teaching within the next 5 years. The survey indicates that teacher recruitment and retention will remain a crisis for years to come, with 79 percent of schools say they are struggling to recruit and retain teachers, and 88 percent of schools predicting that things will worsen over the coming years. A survey conducted by the BBC, which reported that two-thirds of respondents had considered quitting in the past year, came to similar conclusion.
The situation is Scotland is equally difficult, according to a survey by Holyrood’s Education Committee which concluded that insufficient pay, workplace stress and long hours were putting trainees teachers off committing to a long term career in education.
If the current government wishes to improve the wellbeing of England’s teachers, they would do well to study policies from countries such as Canada and Finland.
A Canadian teacher from Ontario who moved to work in London was initially shocked by the excessive workloads that burdened teachers in England. Speaking to the Guardian newspaper he revealed, “I had never seen so much marking before I came to England. Ontario schools give teachers the professional autonomy to decide when written marking is appropriate and when it would be better to use oral or peer-to-peer feedback.
“My belief is that high systems of accountability and scrutiny may improve the bottom 10% of teachers but it stifles the rest. It takes away their autonomy and creativity and that drives away the best people.”
Finland has in recent year been the only European country to break into the PISA Top Ten, and as a result the country has attracted a lot of attention from educators and policymakers across the continent. One important factor in Finland’s success has been the level of autonomy that districts, school and teachers are granted. Furthermore, schools prioritize teacher and student satisfaction by focusing on a culture of trust and personal classroom reflection. As a result job satisfaction in Finland is high and Finnish educators are able to dedicate their time to developing creative joyful learning experiences which their students genuinely benefit from, rather than compiling paperwork for Ofsted inspectors.
Unfortunately, there are no signs that the Conservative government plans to implement any policies which will ease the burdens that teachers currently struggle with. As such the continued exit of experienced educators is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.