Principal Investigator: Professor John Jerrim
Institution: University College London (UCL)Tags: 48217, mental health, occupation, occupational stress, teachers
There are frequent media reports highlighting the stresses and strains of working in the teaching profession (e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-41280360), particularly with respect to mental health. Indeed, England loses over two-million teaching days each year due to sickness absence (Department for Education 2017), with almost 4,000 teachers on long-term leave due to stress, depression or anxiety (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jan/11/epidemic-of-stress-blamed-for-3750-teachers-on-longterm-sick-leave). This has important implications regarding the recruitment and retention of teachers. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the National Education Union, noted how regular media stories about health problems amongst teachers is making it harder to recruit new staff into the profession. Likewise, occupational stress is often cited as one of the major reasons why around a third of new teachers leaves the profession within the first five years. For instance, at a recent House of Commons committee meeting, a headteacher giving evidence stated: ‘In terms of staff wellbeing at the moment, I have probably got the greatest concern that I have ever had. In terms of people’s health, I have never known it as bad as it is at the moment’ (https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/460/460.pdf). This, in turn, has negative implications for children’s achievement. For instance, previous research has found substitute teachers covering sickness absence are only around half as effective as the regular classroom teacher (Benhenda 2017).
Unfortunately, most evidence that currently exists on teacher health, and which is regularly cited in the media, is based upon union-commission polls (e.g. https://www.nasuwt.org.uk/article-listing/supp-needed-for-work-related-mental-health-issues-.html) or by other politically-motivated groups (https://www.libdems.org.uk/3750-teachers-england-on-long-term-stress-leave). Only a handful of academic papers have investigated this issue. The main contribution of this project will be to investigate whether individuals who choose to leave the teaching profession have better health outcomes than those who choose to continue in their teaching career. This will in turn help to establish whether teachers really do suffer unusually high levels of occupational stress or if mental health and well-being is no better (or worse) amongst those who choose to pursue a different career. Together, this will provide the government, school-leaders, unions and educationalists with a robust and impartial assessment of the situation regarding teachers’ physical and mental health. The project will last for a total of 30 months.