Last Sunday I was able to meet a friend that I haven’t seen since before the pandemic started. She is a secondary school teacher and she was telling me how she practically has no time for anything unrelated to her work. Her life is comprising of brief time slots to fit in everyday tasks, such as keeping her house tidy – something that nowadays is near impossible for her. She mentioned how her workload as a teacher is affecting her mental health, with a lack of time to spend with her young children leaving her even more distressed.
Coincidently, 3 days after I met her, I was made aware of a Scotland teachers survey.
Survey of Scotland’s teachers: a sad reality
A major survey of Scotland’s teaching professionals, carried out by the country’s largest teaching union – the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) – has laid bare the health and wellbeing implications of the severe current levels of teacher workload, chronic system underfunding, and the impact of the current cost of living crisis on teachers and schools. Almost 16,500 teachers took part in the national survey, and the results should provide a stark warning to the Scottish Government and Scottish local authorities on the need to provide better support for our education system.
The survey covered four key themes: Workload, Additional Support for Learning, Health and Wellbeing, and the Cost of Living. The full survey report has been published on Wednesday, along with the first in a series of themed briefing papers which focuses on the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on teachers and on Education.
Stark warning of the current situation in Scottish Education
Commenting, EIS General Secretary Andrea Bradley said, “This major survey of Scotland’s teachers provides a stark warning of the current situation in Scottish Education. Teachers are facing significant stress from both their soaring levels of workload and, also, from the cost-of-living crisis which has impacted on teachers personally, especially as they awaited a much-needed pay rise, and on our schools and the young people in our classrooms. The scarcity of support for pupils with additional support needs is compounding the stress on school staff, in addition to damaging the educational experiences of the young people concerned, including with regard to behaviour.”
Ms Bradley added, “In addition to publishing our full survey data today, the EIS is also publishing the first in a series of themed briefings on the findings. This briefing highlights the extent to which teachers are underwriting the education system in Scotland, giving up their own time and money from their own pockets to support young people in our schools.”
Ms Bradley added, “With the number of children living in poverty continuing to rise, it is once again falling on schools, with dwindling resources to plug the gaps in many young people’s lives. However, it is simply not sustainable for teachers to continue to subsidise the Scottish Education system. Whether it is physically subsidising the resources for the classroom or supplies for individual pupils, or indeed by working so many additional unpaid hours that the system does not support itself without them, it is simply unsustainable.”
ISTP: no representatives of the Scottish Government
Referring to the recent International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) in Washington, DC, Ms Bradley said: “The recent ISTP brought together teacher trade unions and governments from around the world, to explore joint working practices to better support the delivery of education, including in relation to the workload and wellbeing of teachers and the criticality of additional support needs provision.
“The EIS was glad to be at this important international event to hear how the 22 participating countries plan to tackle such issues, with government and trade unions working together to do so. It is, however, a source of deep regret that the Scottish Government did not attend this international education summit, having previously sent Ministers and Cabinet Secretaries to work with other government representatives and teacher trade unions colleagues from around the world, and even hosting the event in Edinburgh in 2017.
“At a time of growing pressure on our schools, teachers and pupils, the Scottish Government must not miss any opportunity to explore and collaborate on how best to support education in the interests of children and young people, and the education staff who work with them each day in our classrooms.”
Key findings of the Scotland’s teaching professionals survey
Some of the key findings in the survey are listed below, and the full report is now available on the EIS website, together with the first themed briefing on the educational impact of the cost-of-living crisis.
- Almost all of the teachers surveyed (98%) work above their contracted hours each week. 41% said they work more than 8 additional hours – equivalent to over one extra full day of work unpaid – each week.
- Only 15% of respondents are satisfied (14%) or very satisfied (1%) with their workload levels.
- Only 2% of members who responded said they can always complete their work within their contracted hours, with more than a third (38%) saying they can never complete everything they’re asked to do within their contracted hours.
- Only 3% of respondents said they “frequently” have enough time to complete paperwork, liaise with colleagues and external agencies, and attend meetings in relation to supporting pupils with ASN.
- When asked to what extent children and young people are able to access frontline services, 12% said they can never access this support at the point the need is identified; around half (44%) said they can occasionally access this support; and a further third (32%) said this is sometimes available at the point of need.
- More classroom assistants/support for inclusion and pupils with additional support needs was cited by almost two-thirds (60%) of respondents as likely to make the biggest impact in reducing their workload.
- Almost half of all teachers who responded to the survey said they had poor (34%) or very poor (10%) wellbeing within their job overall.
- Over two-thirds of respondents said they felt stressed frequently (53%) or all of the time (20%).
- Less than a fifth of members said they would be likely (15%) or very likely (3%) to recommend teaching to someone thinking of entering the profession.
- Around two-thirds of members surveyed at the time said they were struggling (13%) or starting to struggle (50%) to pay their rent or mortgage.
- 81% said they were struggling (16%) or starting to struggle (65%) to pay for their weekly food shop.
- 69% of those surveyed said they used their own money to buy food, clothing, school equipment, or pay for pupils that they teach so they don’t go without. Half (51%) said they have been spending less on classroom resources because they can no longer afford to do so.
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
Increasing funding for education would tackle several of the problems we see nowadays at once. First, with no doubt, the teachers’ salaries receiving a suitable boost would alleviate the stress they already carry of struggling to afford basic needs such as rent and groceries.. It would also allow additional support staff for teachers. The Scottish Government would be able to implement policies to reduce class sizes, such as hiring more teachers or implementing caps on class sizes, as large ones can put a strain on teachers and make it difficult to provide individualised attention to each student.
Ideally and more accordingly with what other professionals do nowadays, the Government would also have a chance to implement policies to allow teachers to work more flexible hours or to work remotely. This could help to reduce workload and stress for teachers, while also allowing them to better balance their work and personal lives. Additionally, such policies could help to retain experienced teachers who may otherwise leave the profession due to the workload and stress of teaching.
This article is based on a press release from the Educational Institute of Scotland.