Teacher stress is a growing problem in the UK education system and one which shows no signs of decline. Whether you are a frazzled educator or looking for ways to support your staff, Teach HQ offers actionable strategies and tips.
As a teacher, you’re well aware of the challenges that come with the profession. Long hours, heavy workloads, and high stress levels can affect even the most dedicated educators.
According to the NEU, teachers in England work an average of 54 hours a week – and school leaders top that, with some clocking up in excess of 60 hours. TAs, LSAs and one-to-one support assistants also work longer than their contracted hours. Yet, there is no evidence to suggest that spending longer hours in the classroom leads to greater gains for pupils. In fact, excessive workload is resulting in a mass exodus from the profession. In 2021, a shocking 12.5% of first-year teachers quit the classroom.
The good news is the government have accepted this exodus for the emergency that it is and a renewed focus on teacher wellbeing. In this article, we’ll provide practical tips to help you regain your work-life balance as an educator.
Teacher Stress: Understanding the Causes
With teacher strikes over pay hitting the news and growing numbers of teachers leaving the classroom, the issue of teacher workload has been brought to the public sphere. According to NASUWT’s Wellbeing at Work Survey, 91% of teachers suggest that their job has had a negative effect on their mental health, and 54% attribute this to excessive workload.
Stress, insomnia, tearfulness, depression – the effects of teacher workload are relentless. But it doesn’t end there. The Education Support Wellbeing Index 2020 found that 57% of teachers don’t feel comfortable talking to their school leaders about stress. Alarmingly, 20% revealed that when they have raised an issue in the past, they received no support.
The statistics are damning, and the evidence is clear: there is a significant workload issue within education, and our teachers are not supported in dealing with it.
|“Over one third of education professionals (34 per cent) experienced a mental health issue in the past academic year”.
The Impact of Workload on Stress
Aside from issues around wellbeing, job satisfaction and teacher retention, workload can have a huge impact on outcomes for pupils. In one primary school, the evidence of reducing marking workload, in particular, has indicated improved results in some subjects. ARK Dickens Primary School in Portsmouth changed their approach to marking to include more self, peer and verbal feedback within the lessons and removed the requirement for written comments in books. Teacher workload reduced by up to 10 hours per week, and maths and writing results improved in the process.
Finding Workload Balance as a Teacher
To combat the negative effects caused by teacher stress, it is essential for educators to actively manage and reduce their own stress levels. As we’ve seen, a heavy workload is one of the most significant contributors to teacher stress. It can be overwhelming to balance the demands of lesson plans, assessments, meetings, and administrative tasks.
The government is keen to support school-led strategies to combat the issue of workload. The DfE School Workload Reduction Toolkit highlights some considerations for leaders and teachers to get started. Let’s consider other actionable strategies that teachers and leaders can implement to reduce workload – and stress – in the classroom.
Remember, Ofsted doesn’t expect to see any specific frequency, type or amount of marking and feedback, so it’s important for a school to consider what works for them and their pupils when designing their marking and feedback policy. Spending hours marking does not make you a better teacher! Consider alternatives to written feedback – self, peer and verbal feedback all have their place in the classroom, as does live marking and pupil conferencing. You can even get to grips with EdTech tools such as Kahoot or Quizlet for low-stakes quizzes.
Once again, Ofsted doesn’t specify how planning should be recorded – and they’ll never ask you to provide a lesson plan for them to look at. There is no need to reinvent the wheel where planning is concerned. Share with colleagues, use planning that has worked before, consider investing in schemes of work where possible and make use of high-quality resources such as textbooks. If there is a need for further planning, consider how this will fit in with your PPA allocation. And, if you can schedule your PPA time to work with a colleague, remember to share the workload between you.
When teachers sit down after a busy day of teaching, the first thing they do is take a look at their emails. Emails are a key tool for communicating with colleagues within school – but time spent reading and responding soon adds up. As a school, draw up expectations regarding communication for everybody to follow. This doesn’t mean banning emails after 5 pm – but it does mean setting expectations that immediate responses aren’t necessary.
With the 2019 Ofsted inspection framework now in full use, teachers are all aware of the shift in focus from pupil outcomes to quality of education. This means that Ofsted will not ask to see any internal assessment data, and they don’t require data to be presented in a certain format. When you are considering your data collection points, it’s worth thinking about the purpose of the data. Who is going to use it? Why? If there’s no reason for it, or it won’t contribute to pupil outcomes, consider carefully whether it is necessary.
A weekly staff meeting can be a valuable opportunity for CPD – but it can also be a drain on crucial planning and preparation time. Ensure your staff meetings run smoothly by setting an agenda. This will help you stay on track and avoid discussions about matters that aren’t pressing or relevant. Keep an eye on the time, too – if you plan to finish at 4.30, make sure you wrap up on time.
|“Common barriers to obtaining support for wellbeing were lack of time due to a heavy workload and an inflexible schedule as well as lack of information about where to get it”
In conclusion, managing the teaching workload and reducing stress can be challenging for many educators. However, by understanding the causes of teacher stress and adopting practical strategies, teachers can be more effective in their role. Through planning and smart decision-making from leaders, teachers can be supported in finding ways to balance their workloads. By doing so, the potential to improve pupil outcomes increases too.
At Teach HQ, our mission is to empower education professionals with the skills to enhance their teaching and leadership. We do this through accessible, innovative, and engaging online learning experiences. Our vision is to be the leading e-learning platform for continuous professional development. We provide educational professionals with resources to positively impact children, young people, and the wider community. Explore our CPD courses online and enrich your practice today.