Teachers union demands action over '˜attacks' on the profession

Stress at work is leading some teachers to become increasingly reliant on caffeine, alcohol and prescription drugs, while a number have seen relationships break down, according to a poll by Scotland's fastest growing teaching union.

Union leaders have called on the Scottish Government to work with it to tackle the attacks on the teaching profession
Union leaders have called on the Scottish Government to work with it to tackle the attacks on the teaching profession

The NASUWT survey indicates that more than four-fifths of school staff in the UK (83 per cent) think that their job has had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing in the last 12 months.

Union leaders have also called on the Scottish Government to work with it to tackle the “attacks” on the teaching profession which, they say, threaten to undermine the drive to secure world-class education for every pupil.

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Given a list of issues and symptoms they may have experienced, some 84 per cent of those polled said that they had lost sleep due to their work, while three in four have experienced anxiousness and a similar proportion (74 per cent) reported low energy levels.

More than a fifth (22 per cent) had been turning to alcohol more often, and the same percentage (22 per cent) said they had increased their caffeine intake.

Just under a fifth (19 per cent) said they had lost their appetite and more than one in ten (11 per cent) said they had started to use, or increased their use of, anti-depressants.

Around 9 per cent had suffered a relationship breakdown, while around 7 per cent had started to take, or were taking more, prescription drugs.

One NASUWT member told the union: “My husband has left me because I’m always working” and another said that their teaching job had led to the breakdown of a 16-year marriage.

A third said: “I lose sleep worrying. I feel guilty if I am off sick or not working evenings and weekends.”

More than half of those polled (56 per cent) by the NASUWT, which is meeting for its annual conference in Manchester, said that their job satisfaction had declined in the last 12 months, 37 per 
cent said it had stayed the same and the rest said it had improved.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said children in schools across the UK could lose out on good teachers, with those employed in 
the profession left unable to cope.

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He said: “It is clear that for too many teachers the job is taking an unacceptable toll on their health and wellbeing and that this is affecting all aspects of their personal and professional lives. If the majority of teachers are unable to relax away from work and feel constantly worn down and worried about work issues, then their mental and physical health is inevitably going to suffer and they will not be able to give their best to the children they teach.”

On the issue of support for teachers north of the Border, Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “The NASUWT shares the ambitions of the Scottish Government to close the attainment gap and for every child and young person to be enabled to reach their full potential. The Government’s National Improvement Plan recognises the centrality of the school workforce, but teachers continue to suffer years of real-terms pay cuts at a time when workload has spiralled, driven by the bureaucratic demands of the assessment and curriculum regime introduced by ministers.

“Raising education standards hinges on bringing downward pressure on teacher workload and tackling excessive bureaucracy so that teachers can focus on teaching.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This government is taking robust action to strengthen Scottish education and close the attainment gap.

“We have taken a range of actions to reduce teacher workload in order to strengthen education and free up teachers to teach. We have provided clear and concise guidance and made changes to national qualifications.

“This represents a considerable reduction in workload for teachers and for young people because teachers and pupils will not have to undertake the formal unit assessments at, in most cases, three points during the year. This is what teachers and others told us was significantly contributing to workload and was welcomed by teacher unions last year.

“We are working with partners, including SQA and the teacher unions, to ensure that workload is reduced as a result of these changes.”