A quarter of NI head teachers are “overworked”

Head teachers union warns more than a quarter of school leaders have unmanageable stress levels and do not receive sufficient support…

Last month, teachers reported feeling the strain of workloads. This month, it is the turn of school leaders.

In a survey carried out by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) Northern Ireland it was revealed more than a quarter of school leaders in the nation were facing “unmanageable” stress levels.

The survey asked 236 heads from a range of schools to answer questions relating to workload, stress, and wellbeing. More than four in 10 said they had experienced a decline in morale among their staff over the past 12 months, while more than half said they enjoyed their role less.

The union said the Department of Education was “failing in their duty of care to safeguard health and wellbeing”.

Some of the reasons given for increased levels of stress included the growth of administrative duties, budget constraints, long working hours, lack of support for tackling behavioural issues of problematic pupils, and school inspections.

Despite similar results being seen in a 2001 survey sadly nothing seems to have changed in the past 14 years. NAHT NI said the lack of progress was “concerning”.

Stress is also having an impact on wellbeing, with the number of days off due to illness increasing over the past few years. According to official figures, average teacher absence rates increased from 7.2 days in 2011/12 to 8.4 in 2014/15.

NAHT NI president Harry Greer warned members were under increasing pressure and said something needed to be done by the government.

“School leaders are over-worked and under-supported,” he said.

“We know that there are low levels of applicants for key leadership roles and many talented teachers do not aspire to more senior positions.

“We are calling on the Department of Education to review their spending priorities in consultation with school leaders to ensure that schools are better supported and children’s needs are being met most effectively.”

However, the department said it had put measures into place such as a workload agreement, and expressed the health and wellbeing of staff remained the “utmost importance.” A spokesperson said the department would be “more than happy to discuss these matters” with the union.

Teacher workloads remain a constant source of contention within the education sector. Pressure from inspections and the target-driven approach to monitoring progress is severely damaging education.

What is clear is unless action is taken the UK risks losing many talented educators. It has already started in England and Wales, with reports of new teachers leaving in droves early on in their career. This latest report from NAHT NI is also a serious indication that education is in trouble.

How to solve this crisis is a long question with numerous answers, but something has to give before the sector really does face a crisis it cannot recover from.

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