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Stress mounting in classrooms, teacher warns

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Schools are facing a “ticking time bomb” over mental health pressures, teachers have warned, calling for urgent reform in the classroom to ease mounting pressures.

A relentless system of “nonsensical” tests and checks is adding to the strain on overstretched teachers, the assistant head of an inner-city Leeds primary school has said.

And with the potential impact on young children’s education and wellbeing, Kauser Jan adds, it creates a “vicious cycle” of poor mental health fuelling a crisis among young people.

“The reality is that more teachers are leaving the profession than are coming in, because of stress and workload,” she said. “It worries me, for the future of education.

“If we don’t have good, healthy teachers in front of our children, it impacts on society as a whole.

“I’ve spoken to many teachers, up and down the country, who have struggled and who don’t realise they are depressed, but have ended up quitting the profession.

“They just can’t do it any more. They were having panic attacks at the thought of going to school, that they aren’t good enough, that they can’t do what they are supposed to do.

“That’s awful. That feeds down to the children. We’ve got a vicious cycle – children with mental health issues, teachers with mental health issues, leaders with mental health issues.

“It’s a ticking time-bomb. The Government needs to sit down and listen.”

Research by teachers’ union Nasuwt, carried out earlier this year, showed that 77 per cent of teachers in Yorkshire had experienced a rise in workplace stress in the past 12 months, with 85 per cent saying their job has impacted negatively on their health and wellbeing.

“These figures are an appalling catalogue of dedicated and committed teachers suffering damage to their physical and mental health,” general secretary Chris Keates said.

“It is nothing short of a national scandal that those who are dedicating themselves to giving a future to children and young people are seeing their own lives damaged by the failure of Government and employers to take their health and welfare seriously.

“The causes of this epidemic of teacher stress are no mystery. It is the ever increasing workloads teachers are expected to shoulder and the excessive freedoms and flexibilities given to employers which has led to teachers’ rights being undermined and a growth in adverse management practices.

“The Government is presiding over an ‘anything goes’ style of management where any adverse impact on teachers is regarded as collateral damage.”

Some schools in the region are already making efforts to ease the pressure on teachers and students.

Boothroyd Primary Academy, in Dewsbury, part of the Focus-Trust, has embedded a “wellbeing strategy” in its curriculum, with a relaxation room, ‘happiness’ workshops for staff, and free yoga and fitness sessions.

For the children, there were daily ‘stress buster’ workshops ahead of Sats exams, with play therapy and sensory rooms set up as a safe haven for students.

In Bradford, Dixons Marchbank Primary Academy held a mental health awareness day to boost the wellbeing of pupils and staff, even devising a home-school agreement with parents to help young people in their own environment.

Ms Jan, citing other examples of good practice, said in countries such as Finland which don’t have the same number of tests or “relentless” observations, education standards are “through the roof”. “That’s the answer,” she said. “If we want the best schools, we have to have happy teachers. Not teachers who are shattered, having to do all this nonsensical paperwork.

“From the get-go, we are labelling children as successes or failures. When you are asking teachers do deliver something they don’t believe in, it’s going to have an impact.

“We need to go back to the drawing board. We have to give autonomy back to schools.

“I’m passionate about my position. But no teacher worth their salt will say they want to do something if it won’t make a difference to children’s lives.

“It used to be the case when people were drawn to teaching because of the work life balance. Now we’ve got a shortage – not of teachers but of teachers who want to be in schools because they are leaving the profession.”

The Department for Education, highlighting initiatives to reduce workload, stressed that Ministers have committed to no further changes to the curriculum or new tests for primary schools for the remainder of this Parliament.

Principles for a simpler system of accountability have been published, and workload advisory groups set up to look at what unnecessary data and evidence schools are collecting.

A workload reduction toolkit has also been published, developed by the profession, including practical advice, tools and case studies about how schools have reduced workload.