Four in ten education staff have visited the doctor and a quarter taken sick leave of pressure - ATL

4 April 2012

Four in ten education staff have been to the doctor and a quarter have taken sick leave from work within the current academic year because of the pressure of their job, according to a survey conducted by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). Doctor visits are highest amongst support staff (49%) and the proportion of staff taking sick leave is highest amongst those working in further education (33%).

Staff felt overwhelmingly that their job has a negative impact on their health and well-being (73%), professional ability and confidence (64%), and relationships with friends and family (62%). The main contributing factors were their workload (84%), working long hours (69%), the pressure of inspections (47%), and the pressure of observations (40%). Poor pupil behaviour was cited as a major negative factor by those working in academies (47%) and also by support staff (42%). The effects were not just felt by teachers, but also members of the leadership team felt their job had a negative impact on their health and well-being (81%).

These results came as 43% of all staff say their workload has increased over the last two years, and for 36% it has increased significantly. Half of all those surveyed said they usually work more than 50 hours a week.

A primary school senior manager said: "After starting work around 8am and rarely leaving before 6.30pm, I go home to continue school work, often into the early hours of the morning. The most frustrating part of the job is never feeling I've completed my work; there is always more to do. Switching off and relaxation are no longer part of a teacher's life!"

Just over 80% of staff rated their current workload as high to extremely high, with 60% saying they have thought about changing jobs and 58% considering leaving the profession. In a worrying sign for the future, 40% of newly qualified teachers have thought about leaving the profession and 60% have thought about changing jobs.

A further education tutor in South Yorkshire said: "I suffered a nervous breakdown due to pressures within work and was off for six months. Unfortunately the workload pressure and the over-critical atmosphere has not altered. All staff are jumpy and waiting for the next put-down."

A third of staff find observations really stressful (34%), whilst 45% of staff say they are really helpful but they make them feel a little bit stressed. The reasons why staff find them stressful are: the worry of making a mistake or saying or doing the wrong thing (55%), pressure of someone watching them teach (54%), and the pressure of being graded (47%).

A primary school teacher said: "One lesson does not give a true impression of teaching. Some teachers can 'pull out' a fantastic lesson once in a blue moon and play the game. It does not reflect consistent high level teaching which can only be seen by long-term achievements of the class and the well-being of the pupils."

Disappointingly, around a third of schools don't have policies to deal with stress, mental health or well-being. In schools that do have policies, approximately a third of staff were not satisfied with the policies that were in place.

Staff identified additional measures which could help reduce their stress. These include: reducing workload (67%), receiving more support from the headteacher (41%), and allowing more flexible working (37%). Better communication is very important for support staff, who said having regular meetings and updates (52%) would help them.

A teacher at Doncaster College said: "The policies across college are in place but there is no appreciation regarding stress from direct management."

A primary school teacher from Manchester said: "I would like to go to the GP but I am worried about taking time off due to the lack of empathy from senior staff on my return."

ATL general secretary, Dr Mary Bousted, said: "The demands and pressures on those working in schools and colleges is escalating. It is not surprising that so many teachers and lecturers are considering leaving the profession and it is particularly concerning that so many newly qualified teachers are unhappy; this does not bode well for the profession. They are having to cope with endless government initiatives, Ofsted inspections, pressure from parents, schools and colleges to get pupils through tests. The 35-hour week simply does not exist for teachers.

"The government doesn't seem to care about teachers' workload or their mental health and is showing a callous disregard for teachers' well-being in many of its policies.

"Schools and the government must work together to ensure the introduction of well-being programmes and better policies to look after the health of their staff."


Notes to editors

  1. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing approximately 170,000 teachers, headteachers, lecturers and support staff in maintained and independent nurseries, schools, sixth form, tertiary and further education colleges in the United Kingdom.

  2. ATL exists to help members, as their careers develop, through first rate research, advice, information and legal advice.

  3. ATL is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). ATL is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.


My role

My sector

My location

Find my branch