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Pupil Progress Held Back by Teachers’ Poor Mental Health

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Children’s education is suffering because of poor mental health experienced by many teachers, according to new research.

In a survey of 775 teachers, 77% said that poor teacher mental health is having a detrimental impact on pupils’ progress.

The survey, carried out by Leeds Beckett University and teaching advice website Teachwire.net, examined the relationship between teachers’ mental health and their ability to teach and maintain positive relationships with pupils.

An overwhelming number of respondents, 94%, said that their energy levels in the classroom drop during periods of poor mental health, and 90% said that their teaching is less creative during these times. Many of the mental health issues were caused by excessive workload and constant work scrutiny.

Professor Jonathan Glazzard, of Leeds Beckett University’s Carnegie School of Education, said: ‘Teaching is a fantastic profession that transforms the lives of young people and of course we want people to become teachers.

‘At the same time, we need to make them aware of the issues they will encounter. The results of this survey are quite clear, and it’s time the Government and school leaders took action over reducing workload.”

Last year, Leeds Beckett opened the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools – the first centre of its kind in the UK. It provides high-quality mental health training to all student teachers and has established a quality mark for schools.

‘We are at the cutting edge in this area,’ said Professor Glazzard. ‘On all our teacher training courses, we address issues about teacher workload and how school staff can manage their workload. It is an amazing and incredibly rewarding profession, but we are realistic about the pressures involved.’

The survey also revealed that a significant number of teachers, 81%, said poor mental health has a negative impact on the quality of their relationships with learners. The same percentage said it affected their behaviour management skills, with teachers citing ‘lower levels of tolerance’, ‘focusing on the negative’, and being ‘quick to anger’.

Of the 775 teachers surveyed, 54% reported poor mental health, with 52% of this number saying their illness had been identified by a GP.

Professor Glazzard added: ‘The Government is really focussed on children’s mental health, but we also need to look at the mental health of teachers.

‘It is clear from this research that teachers feel that their own mental health can have a detrimental impact on the quality of their teaching, the progress of their learners and the quality of the relationships they establish with students and colleagues. Teachers feel that they are less effective in the classroom if their mental health is not good. Our ongoing research in this area demonstrates that teacher workload contributes to poor teacher mental health.

‘We also know from our ongoing research in the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools that there is also a network of power and surveillance that operates within schools as well as a general lack of trust in teachers. This is about how teachers treat each other. Schools need to promote a culture of inclusion so that all staff and children experience a sense of belonging.’

Professor Glazzard said teachers were suffering from the effects of constant learning walks, lesson observations and work scrutiny.

‘There are simply too many of them and that is having a detrimental effect on the mental health of teachers. Happy teachers teach well and enable children to achieve good outcomes.’

 Joe Carter, Group Editor at Teachwire.net, said: ‘We speak to an increasing number of schools that are putting in place practices to help safeguard the mental health of staff and pupils. What this survey shows is that investing time and resources into such activities is not only justified in terms of improving teacher well-being and staff retention, it’s an important part of any school improvement plan when it comes to students’ progress and attainment.’

Key findings

  • 94% say mental health can have a detrimental impact on their physical energy in the classroom.
  • 73% believe mental health can have a negative impact on the quality of their explanations in lessons.
  • 72% think that their questioning skills in lessons can suffer due to poor mental health.
  • 89% say their mental health can have a detrimental impact on creativity in their teaching.
  • 85% thought their mental health could reduce the quality of their lesson planning. 
  • 54% of respondents report they currently have poor mental health.
  • Fewer teachers, only 36%, thought poor mental health made a difference to their ability to assess learners’ achievements.

Comments from the survey

  • ‘Teachers are human. If their mental health is affected, this will affect their day-to-day life, including relationships. So much of teaching is about relationships and patience so this has a huge impact.’
  • ‘A teacher who is struggling cannot maintain the pace of the profession. In the past, I have cried before work, at my breaks, and got into bed as soon as I’ve got home. Being unable to commit time to marking and planning will negatively affect your pupils. Plus, if you can’t maintain a certain rapport or relationship with the pupils, they will disengage from your lesson.’
  • ‘Feeling down and lethargic or unmotivated is not the teacher I want to be and does not help to engage the children in their learning.’
  • ‘Being under constant scrutiny because of perceived poor teaching interferes with moving pupils on as I would have previously done. Before I was targeted, my pupils achieved excellent rates of progress. Now my confidence has gone.’
  • ‘It affects all aspects of your performance which ultimately trickles through to pupil performance. A lesson isn’t as well put together and executed as it could be and so not everyone makes the progress they should. Improving mental health takes time so it can’t be fixed in a day – gaps in teacher performance over time will build up to gaps in pupil performance.’
  • ‘When I’m on form there is a buzz in the class and you can feel progress being made. If I’m unwell, depressed or stressed, then frankly I don’t care as much and just want to get through the day.’

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