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Teachers’ wellbeing largely unaffected by lockdown

22 September 2020

Teachers’ wellbeing stayed largely the same during lockdown, with the proportion of teachers reporting high levels of work anxiety slightly falling, according to new UCL Institute of Education (IOE) research.

Person writing in notebook at their desk. Image: Burst via Pexels

The research, published today and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, looked at data collected from around 8,000 teachers in England 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 wellbeing 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 per cent of state school teachers delivered live teaching with student interaction in May 2020, compared to 72 per cent of private school teachers, according to the survey data.

Co-author Professor John Jerrim (UCL Social Research Institute) 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 wellbeing – 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 shut down 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.

Researchers based their analysis upon information gathered from the Teacher-Tapp survey app. At 15.30 on Tuesdays from September 2019 to September 2020, teachers were asked to report their work-related anxiety on a 10-point scale. Scores of between 8 and 10 were classed as very high anxiety. They were also asked a series of broader questions about their wellbeing using validated measures, both pre- and during lockdown.

Media contact

Mark Greaves, UCL Media Relations
T: +44 (0)7539 410 389
E: m.greaves@ucl.ac.uk

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