Work stress 'taking unacceptable toll on health and wellbeing of teachers'

Stress at work is leading some teachers to become increasingly reliant on caffeine, alcohol and prescription drugs, while a number have seen relationships breakdown, it has been suggested.

A new poll indicates that more than four-fifths of school staff (83%) think that their job has had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing in the last 12 months.

Given a list of issues and symptoms they may have experienced, some 84% of those polled by the NASUWT teaching union said that they have lost sleep due to their work, while three in four (54%) have experienced anxiousness and a similar proportion (74%) reported low energy levels.

More than a fifth (22%) had been turning to alcohol more often, and the same percentage (22%) said they had increased their caffeine intake.

Just under a fifth (19%) said they had lost their appetite and over one in 10 (11%) said they had started to use, or increased their use, of anti-depressants.

Around 9% had had a relationship break down, while around 7% had started to take, or were taking more, prescription drugs.

One NASUWT member told the union: "My husband has left me because I'm always working", and another said that their teaching job had led to the breakdown of a 16-year marriage.

A third said: "I lose sleep worrying. I feel guilty if I am off sick or not working evenings and weekends."

More than half of those polled (56%) by the NASUWT, which is meeting for its annual conference in Manchester, said that their job satisfaction has declined in the last 12 months, 37% said it had stayed the same and the rest said it had improved.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: "It is clear that for too many teachers the job is taking an unacceptable toll on their health and wellbeing and that this is affecting all aspects of their personal and professional lives.

"If the majority of teachers are unable to relax away from work and feel constantly worn down and worried about work issues, then their mental and physical health is inevitably going to suffer and they will not be able to give their best to the children they teach."

The findings come after the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers suggested that teachers are taking a pay cut to work a four-day week, just to keep up with their workload.

Dr Mary Bousted said she was aware of increasing numbers of school staff who are choosing to officially work part-time in order to get their planning and marking done.

"They spend Friday doing all their work so they can have a free weekend," she said.  ''Lots of people told me about that and that's happening more and more.''

A recent study concluded that teachers in England work some of the longest hours in the profession in the developed world.

Half of the country's full-time teachers work 40-58 hours a week and a fifth work at least 60 hours a week, according to an analysis by the Education Policy Institute published last autumn.

:: The NASUWT online poll questioned around 4,300 members in February and March. 

A Department for Education spokesman said: "Teaching remains an attractive profession with more people joining the profession than leaving or retiring.

"Nevertheless we want teachers to have the freedom to do what they do best, inspire children to learn. We continue to work with teachers, unions and Ofsted to tackle unnecessary workload and challenge unhelpful practices that create extra work, including through an offer of targeted support to schools.

"Alongside this we are exploring ways to improve career progression for teachers to encourage them to stay in the profession.

"Where staff are struggling, we trust headteachers to take action to tackle the causes of stress and ensure they have the support they need."

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