By Gavin Mackintosh-
A University College Of London (UCL) study has found that the anxiety of school heads in the Uk peaked before lockdown and school re- openings.
A separate study also revealed that many school heads suffered from mental health problems during the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the UCL study, anxiety among headteachers peaked after partial school closures and phased re- openings were announced. It found that teachers’ wellbeing stayed “largely the same” during lockdown, according to a new study.
Survey data collected by Teacher Tapp by UCL and commissioned by the Nuffield Foundation, found that 38 per cent of heads reported “very high” work-related anxiety in the week before school lockdown.
Of those surveyed, 40% reported feeling a similar level of anxiety when the government announced plans for phased re- openings from June.
This was compared to rates of between 13 and 17 per cent between October half term and mid-March.
The study found that although rates of very high anxiety among teachers also peaked before the lockdown, and before phased re-openings, teachers actually reported lower anxiety rates after lockdown started than they had felt beforehand.
Mental Health Decline
Another study by Education Support, found more than half of teachers said their mental health had declined during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the lack of timely government guidance cited as their biggest challenge.
The report concluded that the sharper rises in anxiety among leaders was “likely due to having to manage a number of novel complex administrative and pastoral tasks”, added to the fact their duty of care towards their staff and students “likely became hard to manage”.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the school leadership union ASCL, said he was “particularly concerned about the fact that many school leaders are clearly under huge strain” as they have “had to spin a lot of plates over the past few months, and have hardly drawn breath since March”.
Many leaders have had to maintain provision for key worker and vulnerable children throughout the crisis, while also providing remote learning for everybody else, phasing back in more pupils in the summer term, and then preparing for full reopening in September.
“They have no problem with any of that and have responded to these challenges with great commitment and professionalism,” he added. “What has been harder to swallow has been the government’s chaotic handling of education throughout, and a vast amount of constantly updated guidance, which is in itself a full-time job to follow.”
The UCL study found that one in five headteachers said the experience of lockdown made them “more likely to seek to leave the profession”, compared to one in ten middle leaders and teachers.
The research also found it was “noticeable” how heads’ anxiety “often rose in response to rumours rather than policy changes”.
For example, it rose on July 21, in response to the media leaking the plans for September re-openings, which were then confirmed later in the week.
Co-author of the report, Professor John Jerrim said it was “reassuring to see that [teachers’] wellbeing – and particularly their anxiety about work – does not seem to have been affected by this difficult period”.
However, the research also points to an alarming uptick in anxiety among teachers and heads coinciding with the wider reopening of schools in September.
Jerrim added: “The government needs to keep a close eye on this during the months ahead, taking the necessary steps to support teachers through this unprecedented time.”