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Helpline for teachers struggling with mental health problems receives record number of calls

Cases related to workplace stress jumped by nearly 50 per cent in one year

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Thursday 16 May 2019 07:27 BST

A record number of calls have been placed to a helpline for teachers and other education professionals with mental health problems in the last 12 months.

Counsellors at the Education Support Partnership, a charity that helps education staff with their mental health, dealt with 9,615 cases between April 2018 and March 2019 - a 28 per cent rise from two years ago.

The number of callers clinically assessed to be at risk of suicide also rose by 57 per cent in a year - from 357 in 2017-18 to 561 in 2018-19, the charity said.

In March, the charity managed 1,156 cases, making it the busiest month its helpline has ever had. More than half (57 per cent) of all the cases involved teachers who have been only been working in the profession for less than five years, it said.

Cases related to workplace stress jumped by 49 per cent compared to last year. Other prominent issues for education staff included redundancies, workplace bullying and harassment.

"I was being bullied at work," said Anna, a special needs teacher who used the helpline. "It got so bad I started self-harming. I ended up in a very dark place and took two overdoses.”

The charity's chief executive Sinead Mc Brearty told The Independent that the report raised "deep concerns".

A number of factors have affected teacher’s mental health and wellbeing, she said.

"We can see a steep rise in teachers struggling to maintain good wellbeing and mental health in extremely challenging times in the profession," she added. "The vast majority of callers only get in touch when they are in crisis. Rising numbers of callers are new to teaching or at an early stage in their careers.”

A squeeze on school funding, high accountability pressures and more staff leaving the profession had added to the workload of teachers, she added.

“Not only are many schools short-staffed but there are some who do not feel adequately supported to deal with poor student behaviour,” she said, adding that poor parental behaviour towards staff has risen.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “It is very concerning to see so many reports of serious stress from the teaching profession, but unfortunately not surprising. Teachers and school leaders are increasingly being asked to do more with less, as the pressures of high-stakes accountability, the funding crisis, and heavy workloads bear down.

He added: “We have a serious issue with retention – we can’t afford to lose teachers to stress.”

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Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, called on the government to urgently fund schools and colleges properly to reduce the impact on staff.

He said: “Schools are under a great deal of pressure. They are being expected to do more with fewer resources because of real-terms cuts in government funding. Many schools have had to cut back on teachers and support staff, which are stressful processes for those affected and leave the remaining workforce having to pick up the workload.”

A department for education spokesperson said: “We want every child to be taught by great teachers who have the time, freedom and support to do what they do best – inspire the next generation.

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

“In March, the secretary of state announced the launch of an expert advisory group to look at how teachers and school leaders can be better supported to deal with the pressures of the job, which builds on our teacher recruitment and retention strategy which focuses on the importance of developing supportive cultures.”

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