Teachers forced to ‘pop pills’ over excess workload, union told

Teachers’ union Nasuwt says wellbeing sessions on finger-painting do not ‘chip away’ at the workload they face.

Catherine Lough
Saturday 16 April 2022 14:11
A teacher marking books (PA)
A teacher marking books (PA)

Teachers have been forced to pop pills to cope with increasing workload, a teachers’ union has been told on Saturday.

Member Owain Morgan-Lee told the Nasuwt teaching union’s annual conference in Birmingham that many colleagues had been signed off as “long-term sick, because they’re popping pills to try to cheer themselves up because the job is dragging them down to a point where their health is in a serious, serious, condition”.

“It’s grinding down our morale, grinding down the good teachers of the UK,” he said.

Mr Morgan-Lee said that at a recent wellbeing session at his school he had considered whether he could “do some finger-painting up in the art department for a few hours” or “I might decide to knit and natter in the textiles department.

“I decided to do a mindfulness session.

“Lying on the sweaty, cold, hall floor, thinking about what noise my knees were making , how my toes felt, and what that grape tasted like and how it felt in my mouth,” he said.

“I wondered how many more seconds or minutes I’d have to do that for, before the stress, the anxiety, the fear of going back into the classroom and logging onto my school emails, how many more minutes I’d have to do that for before it all ebbed away and I reached nirvana.”

He said that none of this would “chip away” at the workload he faced.

Member Damien McNulty said there was a culture of “where telephones, and tablets, smartphones are turned on” and school leaders’ responses to emails going unanswered out of working hours were to “set up WhatsApp groups which will ding and ping all evening when you’re trying to get some rest and relaxation”.

Patrick Roach (Simon Boothe/Nasuwt/PA)

Teachers voted to campaign for educators to have limits set on their working hours, as well as for the union to campaign to promote teachers’ rights to a work-life balance.

They said that Nasuwt must work to “expose the inadequacy of current teachers’ conditions” across the country.

In a survey of over 4,000 members across the UK, six in 10, 62%, said that their workload had “increased significantly” over the past 12 months, while nine in 10, 91%, said their workload had increased.

Survey data of nearly 3,000 members also found that full-time teachers said they were working 57 hours per week on average, with 15 of these worked outside the normal school day.

Most respondents out of 4,000, 84%, reported that over the past 12 months their job had adversely affected their mental health.

Of those who said their mental health had been impacted, over half, 52%, said that workload was the most important factor in this.

Nearly half of respondents, 48%, said they spent more time or much more time on classroom teaching, supervision or preparation over the past year, while over a third, 37%, had spent more time on remote learning.

Nearly six in 10, 59%, said they had spent more time on data and assessment requirements over the past year, and 70% said they had spent more time on administrative work.

They had also spent more time on lesson planning, dealing with parents and pastoral care over the past year.

Dr Patrick Roach, Nasuwt general secretary, said that successive governments had “failed” to reduce teachers’ workload or enforce contractual limits on working hours.

He added that teachers and school leaders had been “serving on the front line” throughout the pandemic, and had been “placed under immense pressure, which is no longer sustainable”.

“No teacher should expect to be subject to levels of workload pressure that will make them ill or force them out a job they love,” he said.

He said that excessive workload was not only bad for teachers but damaging to pupils’ education.

“Teachers deserve a better deal, which must include a contractual entitlement to a limit on their workload and working hours,” he added.

Dr Roach said that mindfulness was not a “silver bullet” for issues over workload.

He said that mindfulness had its place “but teachers are actually overwhelmed with the amount of workload demands that have been placed on them”.

“If you’re sitting in the mindfulness session, but your thoughts are racing on the stack of books that you’ve got at home because you’ve been told that you’ve got to get all this stuff marked by tomorrow or you’re still being expected to hand in daily lesson plans,” he said.

Mindfulness has a place, but it’s certainly not a silver bullet.

“Whether it’s the answer to the question of wellbeing, I doubt, because the answer to wellbeing is about addressing the fundamentals, which is that there’s too much to do in too little time.”

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