11 Jan 2018, Katy Morton
The data was obtained by the Liberal Democrats through a freedom of information request to all local authorities in England, 83 of which provided responses.
The figures show that in 2016/17, 3,750 teachers in England were signed off on long-term sick leave (i.e. for one month or more) because of work pressures, anxiety and mental illness – roughly one in 83 teachers. This is a 5 per cent increase on the previous year when 3,570 were on long-term sick leave.
However, the figures are likely to be higher given that 69 local authorities did not provide any data.
An analysis of the figures by the political party reveal a total of 1.3 million days have been taken off by teachers for stress and mental health reasons in the last four years, including around 312,000 in 2016/17 – equivalent to losing 1,600 teachers each working 185 days a year.
Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson, Layla Moran MP, said, ‘These figures lay bare the impossible pressures our teachers are being put under.
‘It is simply unacceptable that those working tirelessly to do the best for our children are seeing their mental ill health affected as a result.
‘I’ve heard story after story of teachers experiencing "burn out" due to factors including workload or mishandled Ofsted inspections. But these are no longer just the rare or most extreme cases – they are increasing common.
‘This must be a wake-up call to the new education secretary Damian Hinds.
‘Stress and anxiety are fuelling the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, but the Government’s approach is making matters worse. We need fundamental reform of assessments and inspections in our schools, which are two of the greatest sources of anxiety for teachers.
‘It is completely wrong that teachers are made to feel that they will be judged a success of a failure based on a single bad inspection or a class that doesn’t perform as well as expected.
‘The Government must also end the real-term cuts to pay for teachers that are leaving them feeling overworked and undervalued.’
Commenting on the figures, Dr Mary Bousted, joint secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), told The Guardian, ‘Teachers work more unpaid overtime than any other profession. Classroom teachers routinely work 55 hours or over a week. School leaders routinely work over 60 hours a week.
‘And it is not just the amount of work. It is the pressures of a punitive and non-productive accountability system.’
She went on to say that the number of ways in which a school could be deemed to be failing had ballooned in recent years – and there was relentless pressure to demonstrate even minute progress. She said that often came at the cost of ‘real improvements’, describing English children as some of the ‘most over-assessed in the modern world’.
A Department for Education spokesperson said, ‘Teachers play an important role in our society, and there are now more teachers in our schools than ever before – 15,500 more since 2010.
‘We continue to work with teachers, unions and Ofsted to tackle unnecessary workload and challenge unhelpful practices that create extra work, which includes a programme of targeted support for schools.
‘Guidance to governing bodies is clear that they have a responsibility to take work-life balance into account when managing staff. Where staff are struggling we trust headteachers to take action to tackle the causes of stress and ensure they have the support they need.’