Figures reported in The Guardian this month reveal an increase in sick leave among teachers. This adds to the pressure created by staff shortages, in turn a result of those leaving the profession and lower levels of trainees.
The report said that that last year 3,750 teachers in England were signed off on long-term sick leave as a result of pressure, anxiety and mental illness. That’s an increase of 5 per cent over the previous year. Those details were compiled from Freedom of Information requests made to 82 English councils.
Adding to unfilled vacancies and high turnover in some areas, long-term sick leave disrupts education. Just fewer than one in eighty teachers spent over a month off work in 2016-17. Altogether, 1.3 million days have been lost over the past four years due to teachers’ stress and mental health reasons in the past four years. Dr Mary Bousted of the National Education Union warned of an “epidemic of stress”, as “teachers work more unpaid overtime than any other profession.”
Despite the fragmentation of national terms and conditions, sick leave provision for teachers is still better than for most workers. But that’s no grounds for blame or complacency.
All workers, and teachers are no exception, must take responsibility for their health by taking responsibility for their work. Maintaining terms and conditions, identifying the immediate causes and areas worst affected, support for those affected by stress – and above all more teachers – would begin to tackle the increasing stress levels reported. Collective action is the only way any of this can be achieved.