Many teachers blame poor mental health on the stress on increasing workloads. The approaching general election makes it a prime time to lobby for change .

Teachers do not enter the profession expecting to work 9 to 5, but workloads are spiralling out of control.

Struggling to maintain a healthy work-life balance is a big issue for many teachers who routinely sacrifice their lunch breaks, evenings and much of their weekends to planning, marking and what many deem unnecessary paperwork. The Labour Force Survey 2013 showed that teaching staff in schools, colleges and universities across the UK work, on average, an extra 12 hours unpaid overtime each week – that’s more than any other profession, including financial directors, lawyers and health workers.

The Department for Education’s Teachers’ Workload Diary Survey 2013 found that teachers work more than 50 hours a week, rising above 60 hours for primary teachers and secondary heads. More than half (55 per cent) said that some of their time was spent on unnecessary or bureaucratic tasks; 45 per cent said this had increased from the previous year.

Time locked up in offices filling out forms could be better spent in the classroom or on continuing professional development, both of which could have more tangible benefits for our students’ learning. As the paperwork mounts up, we at Teacher Support Network know how it can lead to mental and physical illnesses as staff struggle to cope. More than 12,800 calls to our helpline in the past two years have highlighted a range of mental health issues, many them work-related.

Our Education Staff Health Survey 2014, published this week, found that 91 per cent of school teachers have experienced stress in the past two years, while a further 74 per cent suffered anxiety and 47 per cent had depression. Ninety-one per cent blamed excessive workload as the major cause.
This is a rise of 13 per cent over the past six years, showing that workloads are unabating. Four in five teachers told us this year that their mental health could be improved if managers worked with staff to reduce workload.

Teachers work an extra 12 hours unpaid overtime every week — more than any other profession

And what is the impact on their teaching? Around three in four told us they lost confidence, 59 per cent said their work performance suffered, while more than a quarter took time off as a result of mental health problems.

A primary school teacher from Greater London, who was off sick with a double chest infection in December 2012, said: “I love teaching and hate it in equal measure. I work 65 hours a week. My doctor said he should give me a prescription for a new job.”

Another sixth-form science teacher from the north of England was signed off for four months this year with myalgic encephalomyelitis. “I physically collapsed
at school because of stress. I spoke to my
line manager but she said everyone is struggling, it’s hard in the run-up to Ofsted, it’s normal.”

Teacher burnout can be costly – the Audit Commission calculated in 2011 that teacher sickness absence costs more than £500 million – while our research already shows there could be a link between a teacher’s health and their students’ outcomes. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan chimed with this when she told the recent Conservative Party conference: “I don’t
want my child to be taught by someone too tired, too stressed and too anxious to do the job well.”

Teachers will be pleased then that Ms Morgan has recognised that the government can no longer ignore the elephant in the (class)room and is keen to talk to unions and teachers about cutting workload. It comes after years of feeling sidelined by government, feeling the weight of curriculum reforms and being told by Ofsted’s Sir Michael Wilshaw that teachers don’t know what stress is.

Our health survey shows how poor mental health at work, as a result of unsustainable workloads and a lack of support, it is destroying the quality of teaching. We need to ensure that politicians do not use teacher workload as an election tool but understand that changes are needed now.