Thursday, 13 June 2013

Teacher Stress: It's a Health and Safety Issue !

A survey by the NUT found that 36% of teachers felt the effects of stress all or most of the time. 
HSE research in 2000 found teaching to be the most stressful profession in the UK, with 41.5% of teachers reporting themselves as ‘highly stressed’.
The human consequences of this excessive stress on teachers are serious and wide-ranging, and can include physical symptoms such as headaches,  raised blood pressure, infections, digestive disorders, heart disease or cancer; mental health symptoms such as withdrawal, poor concentration, anxiety, depression, insomnia, ‘burn-out’ and an increased risk of suicide; and behavioural consequences such as low self-esteem, increased drug or alcohol intake and deteriorating personal relationships leading to family, relationship or career problems.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there was an 80 per cent increase in the number of teachers committing suicide between 2008 (35 teachers) and 2009 (63 teachers).  These figures demonstrated that instances of suicide for teachers were 30-40 per cent higher than the national average for all occupations.  Although these figures are not necessarily linked to the stresses of the job, stress can clearly be an aggravating factor.


Research evidence has shown that the main sources of the current high levels of teacher stress include:

  • excessive workload and working hours – often exacerbated by a surfeit of government ‘initiatives’;
  • poor pupil behaviour, which itself is often compounded by issues such as large class sizes;
  • pressures of assessment targets and inspections;
  • management bullying; and
  • lack of professional opportunities.
A study, commissioned by the NUT in 2004, and undertaken by professors Galton and MacBeath of Cambridge University, suggested that pupil indiscipline is the prime obstacle to securing improvements to teachers’ lives.  This lends support to the view that initiatives to reform the school workforce will only succeed in reducing teacher stress if they are fully integrated into a comprehensive range of measures which address all the root causes of stress in the teaching profession.


Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 employers have a general duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health of their employees at work.  This includes taking steps to make sure they do not suffer stress-related illness as a result of their work.  This statutory regime supplements the ‘common law’ obligations on employers to provide reasonably safe working environments for their employees.

Employers also have a specific duty under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to undertake risk assessments that seek to identify and eliminate or reduce risks to their employees’ health, safety and welfare.  Stress is one of the risks to health, safety and welfare that must be assessed.  Local authorities, governing bodies and all other employers of teachers must:

·                  consider the risk of stress among their workforce;
·                  take steps to remove the risk; or
·                  where removal of the risk is not possible, reduce the risk by any necessary changes in working practices or by introducing appropriate protective or supportive measures.

Employers also have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to the working conditions of teachers suffering from certain stress-related illnesses, such as mental illness.  Furthermore, since 2006, public sector employers have had to comply with a Disability Equality Duty, which requires them to actively promote disability equality, and to become ‘proactive agents of change’.  Further details of these developments can be found on the website of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights at


You can use the Teacher Stress Ready Reckoner, or the model Teachers Stress Risk Assessment to ascertain levels of stress in your school.  This can form the basis of making representations and demands on a school leadership.  These can be found in the Union's guidance document here.   If you would like the local NUT Division to carry out such a survey of your members, please contact us.

The Union's national Action Short of a Strike allows union members to collectively refuse to undertake certain duties and tasks. These have been specifically designed to enable good teaching and learning, and remove bureaucratic demands on our members. If you would like a local official to come and speak to an NUT meeting at your school regarding the action, they will be more than happy to do so.

Individuals can also access support through the ESCC Counselling Service, which can arrange confidential one-to-one counselling with an external professional. The service is run by independent service PPC.

The Teacher Support Network is widely supported by NUT Divisions, and is an important part of the NUT family. It also provides counselling support and has a dedicated telephone helpline for teachers. You can visit their site here.

More information for NUT Reps, Health and Safety Reps and members can be accessed at the NUT National website- here.



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