Why are England’s Teachers Stressed?

Why are English school teachers more stressed than any other?

There is a clear relationship between school-system accountability and how stressed school staff feel about this aspect of their job

One day the general population (and perhaps the media and our politicians) will take notice and ask, ‘Why are our English schools and teachers the most stressed across the international sector?’

This is a question considered in a piece of research published by the Nuffield Foundation, summarised here by FFT Education Datalab (2021). The aim of the project was to provide a comprehensive and robust assessment of teachers’ health in England, looking at differences according to age, experience, gender, full-time or part-time working, and primary or secondary to name a few parameters.

England compared against other countries…

Teachers have a lot to be thankful for – research-informed practice, better support and qualification. However, compared this with reducing working conditions, pensions or increased accountability.

There are countless pieces of research that highlight why teachers find their job difficult, as well as endless recommendations about what we should be doing.

What makes the research particularly interesting, is the comparison against other OECD countries.

The most interesting graphic I have selected below explains why England sits towards the top right-hand side. Across England, we have many accountability structures across the system and plenty of it which is top-down.

School accountability and teacher stress. International evidence from the OECD TALIS study

The real concern is the impact accountability is having on workload, wellbeing and the mental health of school staff.

The research suggests that the close monitoring of student achievement data is becoming a common process in school systems around the world. If this becomes a feature in all school systems, this will allow governments to align “goals and incentives… with parents, school leaders and teachers.”

Keeping good teachers and attracting even more!

Only 12 months ago, the Department for Education exceeded its recruitment targets for the first time in 8 years! However, teacher recruitment targets have returned to below average as the country has slowly emerged from the pandemic.

Teacher supply is a real problem, with subject bursaries merely tinkering at the edges.

One only needs to look at the teacher workforce data to better understand where more work needs to be done. With three and five teachers aged between 30 and 49, despite the proportion of teachers in this category increasing over the last 10 years; the number of teachers over 50 is decreasing.

We need to work harder at keeping our experience teachers and do much more to encourage younger people into the profession. This, plus a serious look at our accountability structures with this key question: How do you balance improving school standards against keeping great teachers from leaving the profession?

Now, this research was published last year at the peak of COVID-19. I cannot imagine the situation is any better. It’s also worth noting, that the research does highlight similar countries with increased accountability structures, but that those teachers report lower levels of stress. Something English policymakers must explore…

The research concludes:

There is a pressing worldwide need for more longitudinal data on teachers, allowing researchers to monitor how their levels of stress and wellbeing changes as they get promoted, when school management changes or they move to another job.


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