How can we improve teacher wellbeing for the long-term?

Jan. 15, 2018
Rosie Clayton

Rosie Clayton

Former Insight and Impact Manager, Big Change

What can we change to ensure teachers are supported to stay, and develop, in their jobs? Rosie Clayton of Big Change discusses their research into what teachers love about their jobs, and what causes the greatest discontentment.

The teaching profession in the UK is currently facing a major crisis of burnout and attrition, with teachers fast becoming the most stressed workforce in the country. More than a quarter of teachers are turning to medication to cope with the stress of their work, and around 40% leave the profession within 5 years of qualifying, which is putting huge strain on the system and the quality of education that our young people are receiving.

Teacher Educator 2

Big Change partners with innovative and pioneering organisations to bring about impactful, long term system change to help young people in the UK thrive in life not just exams. Teachers play a vital and unrivalled role in shaping future generations, but their overall wellbeing (explore the full definition) is often overlooked. Supporting teachers is a big focus of our work.

"More than a quarter of teachers are turning to medication to cope with the stress of their work, and around 40% leave the profession within 5 years of qualifying."

Two years ago we teamed up with Ten Years Time in an effort to get to the heart of what teachers and school leaders enjoy and value, and conversely fear. We met with a wide range of people and organisations and one thing became clear – many teachers love what they do and think teaching is the best job in the world. Why? Because:

  • You never have the same day twice
  • Young people are great and inspiring to be around
  • Teachers enjoy working with colleagues that want the best for those around them
  • The job is constantly challenging
  • You are constantly learning

So these are the motivators, but what are the drivers of discontent, stress and anxiety? What emerged was a complex picture. Here are some of the key areas highlighted:

1. Change: The nature, frequency and pace

Changes in policy, curriculum and assessment have intensified in recent years. Many are felt to be unnecessary, and some badly communicated. 

The stress this causes is being made worse by short lead times which allow for very little implementation planning. Being given a new curriculum half way through a year left many feeling they were delivering curriculums they weren’t prepared for, or confident with. 

Many described a ‘football manager’ syndrome with head teachers in particular being subjected to short term targets that compromise a more sustainable long-term agenda. Cuts in budgets and local authority services have put more pressure on schools and their teachers.

2. Control: Lack of autonomy, time, and the pressures of accountability

Teachers want a culture of innovation and improvement; to be seen as agents of learning and development. Instead they feel like deliverers of a curriculum.

Many feel pulled into too many state functions and would rather be able to concentrate on subject specialist teaching. They feel they have lost their purpose and don’t have the autonomy to teach as they wish. 

Time pressures and increasing work demands mean – particularly in relation to Ofsted – teachers are not given enough time to plan, and spend too much time marking. Workload was cited as a major factor that affects wellbeing and work life balance. There is little time for life outside the school gates, and even when teachers are ‘coping’ well with their jobs, they have very little capacity of tolerance for additional stresses such as relationship break ups, family bereavements, sick dependents, or recovering from trauma.

3. Leadership, management and CPD

There is no clear structure to ensure teachers are constantly learning as their careers develop. Heads and senior management are often not trained in, or selected for, their staff management and development capabilities, and despite the pressures, Heads rarely receive additional training in managing a school. 

The same is true of middle leaders and their respective responsibilities. Many schools don’t have appropriate HR teams, resources, plans or capacity to deliver effectively. Fragmentation of the education system is also a challenge – there are thousands of school providers and it’s hard to help schools communicate with each other or share best practice across the sector.

Read our research in more depth 

What Does All This Mean?

Our children will only thrive in life if they are taught by teachers who are also healthy, happy and thriving. 

In response to these findings we decided to back five new initiatives – supporting projects led by Achievement for All, Whole Education, How to Thrive, The Difference, and the Institute for Teaching. 

We are really excited about the work of the Institute for Teaching, who are rethinking teacher education to better support teachers personal and professional development. Our joint project will look at both the technical and psychological elements of expert teaching – drawing on best practice from other elite professions such as sport, the arts and the armed forces – to design tools and training modules that will help prevent teacher burnout over the long-term and promote coping mechanisms for stress.

Across our projects we will develop strategies and approaches to support teacher wellbeing more broadly; better equipping teachers to help students learn and develop; improving teachers’ motivation to stay in the profession; and to better develop their professional skills and career progression. 

We’re looking forward to sharing this work with you over the coming year.

This article originally appeared on the website of the Institute for Teaching. In March 2019 the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

Search blog posts by topic: