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Teachers’ well-being largely unaffected by lockdown

By Nuffield Foundation

Teachers’ well-being and work-related anxiety did not decline during lockdown, according to new Nuffield-funded research from UCL.

The research looked at data collected from around 8,000 teachers in England collected between September 2019 and September 2020. The study, which is the first to measure how the COVID-19 lockdown affected the wellbeing of teachers, found that slightly fewer teachers were highly-anxious about work after lockdown was imposed, with about one in 20 reporting very high anxiety compared to one in eight before lockdown.

The same was not true for headteachers, however, many of whom were highly anxious about work while the country was in lockdown. There were particular spikes in anxiety among headteachers in the week before school lockdown, when the proportion of headteachers reporting very high anxiety doubled to 38%, and in June when school re-openings were first announced.

Although the well-being of teachers was, on average, unchanged during lockdown, different aspects of their mental health may have been affected in different ways. For instance, in April 2020 (during the height of lockdown) teachers were more likely to say they had energy to spare, were feeling relaxed and were feeling loved than when the same questions were asked earlier in the academic year (October 2019). However, teachers were less likely to say that they felt useful, were optimistic about the future or were interested in new things in April 2020 than in October 2019.

The study also demonstrates the inequality in teaching experiences of private and state school children while schools were shut. Just six percent of state school teachers delivered live teaching with student interaction in May 2020, compared to 72 percent of private school teachers.

Co-author, Professor John Jerrim (UCL Institute of Social Research) said: “Like many, teachers were asked to quickly provide innovative solutions to ensure children’s education could continue as best as possible when the pandemic hit. It is reassuring to see that their well-being – and particularly their anxiety about work – does not seem to have been affected by this difficult period”.

“It is a concern, however, that we have seen quite a sharp uptick in the percentage of highly work-anxious teachers at the start of September. 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”.

He added: “The report also highlights the inequality in the types of teaching private and state school pupils received over the summer school term. This clearly has the potential to lead to further educational inequalities in pupil achievement, which could be further exacerbated this autumn if schools are forced to shutdown again”.

The study also found work anxiety during lockdown was higher for women than for men, and for parents of both gender when compared to teachers without children.  

One in five headteachers said the experience of lockdown had made them more likely to seek to leave the profession, compared to one in ten middle leaders and teachers.

This research shows that headteachers have experienced high levels of work-related anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic, with one in five now reporting that they are more likely to seek to leave the profession. With uncertainty over how the new academic year will unfold – and teachers across the profession reporting increased anxiety since the start of September – it is important for school leaders to receive adequate support, alongside clear and timely guidance and resources.” Cheryl Lloyd Education Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation

Researchers based their analysis upon information gathered from the Teacher-Tapp survey app. At 15.30 on Tuesday afternoons from September 2019 to September 2020, they were asked to report their work-related anxiety on a 10-point scale. They were also asked a series of broader questions about their wellbeing using validated measures – both pre and during lockdown.

Blog series

These findings are explored in more depth in a series of blogs from the research team on the FFT Education Datalab website:

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