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New NFER report shows Covid-19 has increased anxiety and lower happiness among teachers

teacher in a mask

 New @TheNFER report shows Covid-19 has led to anxiety and lower happiness among teachers 

A new report published today by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) shows that the first lockdown in March 2020 led to a decrease in the well-being of teachers – with a rise in distress, anxiety and lower levels of happiness and life satisfaction, compared to pre-pandemic levels. However, the new data highlights that the lower level of well-being among teachers was also experienced by similar individuals in other professions.

NFER’s 2021 Teacher Labour Market in England Annual report , funded by the Nuffield Foundation, monitors the progress schools in England are making towards meeting the teacher supply challenge by measuring the key indicators and trends of teacher supply and working conditions.

The report also highlights how the relative ’recession-proof’ feature of teaching has led to a surge in the number of people applying to enter the profession.

The report finds that the teaching profession, having relatively high job security compared to an uncertain wider labour market, led to an increase in applications to initial teacher training (ITT) in 2020 and 2021. 

After application numbers increased rapidly over the summer of 2020, enrolments in postgraduate ITT in 2020 were 20 per cent higher than the previous year, with the overall targets for primary and secondary trainees being exceeded.   

The trend in ITT applications has continued in 2021, with total applications up to mid-February being 26 per cent higher than the same point in 2020. This suggests that the teacher supply challenge, which existed prior to the pandemic, has been eased in the short term.

Other key findings highlighted in the report include:

  • Covid-19 is likely to have led to lower teacher turnover and higher retention. The number of teachers leaving the profession is likely to remain lower than previous years in 2021, further bolstering short-term teacher supply.
  • Anxiety among both teachers and similar professionals began to rise in the late summer and autumn as Covid-19 case numbers began to rise and some restrictions were re-imposed in response.
  • During the autumn term, in which schools were fully open to pupils, full-time teachers’ working hours rose to around 46 hours per week, significantly more hours than the 41 reported by full-time similar professionals during the same period and the 40 reported by full-time teachers during March-July.
  • Covid-19 led to a squeeze on teaching staff capacity throughout 2020, placing additional strain on the teachers who could work. For a range of reasons, the pandemic led to an increase in staff absence during 2020. This included teaching staff being required to self-isolate due to contracting Covid-19 or being in contact with an infected person and also teachers shielding due to an underlying health condition that could put them at risk of serious complications should they contract Covid-19.
  • The pandemic has led to a reduction in capacity for school-based training placements, just as more trainees enter ITT. There are more trainees in the ITT system in 2020/21 compared to 2019/20, which means that more school-based placements are required for them to complete their training. However, Covid-19 has caused schools to reduce the number of ITT placements offered in 2020/21.
  • Teacher pay freezes are unlikely to be sustainable in the medium term as the wider labour market recovers. While the immediate threat of a teacher supply crisis appears to have declined due to the Covid-19 impact of increased recruitment and retention, this is likely to be short-lived. Important factors such as pay will return to prominence in the medium term. A prolonged period of teacher pay freezes beyond 2021/22 would likely lead to teacher pay becoming increasingly uncompetitive compared to other professions. This could risk prompting another teacher supply challenge once the labour market starts to recover. 

 The report also makes the following recommendations:

  • Reducing teacher workload and supporting well-being should remain a priority for the Government in the post-pandemic recovery phase.
  • The Autumn 2021 Government Spending Review should account for a measured three-year package of teacher pay increases to ensure pay remains competitive.
  • The School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) is currently not invited to make recommendations on teacher pay if the Government decides to freeze teacher pay. STRB should be given a permanent remit to make independent recommendations on teacher pay, even when the Government considers that pay should be frozen.
  • The Government should closely monitor teacher absence data throughout the 2021 spring and summer terms, and publish weekly data.
  • The Government should take action to ensure schools have sufficient mentoring capacity to support the increasing numbers of new teachers entering the system. 

Commenting on the research, Jack Worth, NFER School Workforce lead and co-author of the report said:

“The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a higher level of anxiety and lower levels of well-being and happiness in the population, and this has been no different for teachers in England. Being supported and feeling valued are key for retaining teachers in the profession.

“Although the impact of the pandemic has eased the teacher supply challenge in the short term, there remains a real need to continue to improve teachers’ pay and working conditions to make it a rewarding graduate career choice even when the wider labour market recovers.” 

Cheryl Lloyd, Education Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation said:

“Like other professionals, teachers have experienced higher levels of anxiety than usual during the pandemic. It is important that the well-being of teachers and school leaders is adequately supported and remains a government priority during the recovery phase.

“With children’s learning having been severely disrupted over the past year, the recruitment and retention of a high-quality teaching workforce is now more crucial than ever. Despite an increase in enrolment to initial teacher training courses, shortages remain in key subject areas and the government should continue to strengthen strategies to attract and retain teachers.”

Commenting as the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) publish a new report on the Teacher Labour Market in England, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“These figures do show an increase in teacher training applications thanks to Covid. But that apparent good news story should not be allowed to distract from the worrying longer-term implications of the experiences reported by school staff over the last year. There is a real risk that we will lose more experienced teachers and school leaders post-Covid than can possibly be replaced by new recruits.

“The findings of this report chime exactly with what we are hearing from our members. Before the crisis hit, it was widely acknowledged that teachers and school leaders’ working hours had reached unsustainable levels. During the pandemic, their working week has got longer still. The juggling act of teaching children remotely and in-person concurrently is giving way to the challenge of assessing and addressing the varied impact that lockdown has had on our nation’s young. Over the last 12 months, school leaders have re-engineered schooling from the ground up, many times over, and expertly navigated the constant last-minute emergencies and major business planning challenges that the pandemic has brought. And all this whilst facing another real-terms pay cut.

“The current situation is unsustainable. School leaders are frustrated at Government and exhausted by Covid. Our own survey in Autumn 2020 found that nearly half of school leaders surveyed (47%) were considering leaving the profession sooner than originally planned, as a result of the pandemic. These experienced teachers and leaders cannot be replaced by the new people entering teacher training this year. Action must be taken to ensure a sufficient education workforce, improving conditions to retain both current staff and new recruits.

“We agree with many of NfER’s recommendations for change, including reducing teacher workload, supporting well-being, improving mentoring programmes, and making teacher and school leader pay competitive. School leadership is a demanding and important profession, and the government needs to make the case for a decades-long career in teaching.

“We particularly welcome the report’s recommendation that the School Teachers’ Review Body should be given a permanent remit to make independent recommendations on teacher pay, even when government considers that pay should be frozen. The constraints placed on the review Body by successive secretaries of state have led to a decade-long fall in the real value of teachers’ and leaders’ pay, and undermined the salary differential for leadership responsibility. The result has been a full blown teacher and leadership supply crisis.

“The STRB has repeatedly said that pay in the profession is uncompetitive, differentiated pay awards are likely to fail in their own terms, and that leadership responsibility must be properly remunerated. NAHT agrees. Our evidence to the STRB calls for a full review of the pay structure for teachers and leaders. An interim settlement over three years, that takes a strong step towards restoring the losses of the last decade, could provide the breathing space needed for the STRB to consult on a full review of the pay structure for the profession.” 

Commenting on the National Foundation for Education Research’s new report on the teacher labour market, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“The NFER is right to note that any improvement in teacher supply due to the pandemic will be short-lived.  They are certainly not enough to compensate for the long period of missed recruitment targets and the increasing problems with teacher retention.  Attacks on teacher pay contributed to those problems and the planned pay freeze will create new problems.   

“The NFER is also right to highlight the adverse impact of the Government’s planned pay freeze for teachers.  The impact of the pay freeze is not just a “medium term problem” as described in the NFER report.  The pay freeze will hit teachers hard in September 2021, when they will see their pay cut yet again in real terms.     

“As teacher pay is frozen in September 2021, inflation is expected to be higher and other graduate professionals will be getting pay increases.  The net result will be a significant teacher pay cut in real terms against inflation, combined with a growing gap between teacher pay and pay for other graduate professions.  That is a recipe for more teacher recruitment and retention problems, when we are still living with the legacy of years of under-recruitment and significant losses of experienced teachers.   

Mary continues: “One in four teachers work more than 60 hours per week and the pandemic has only made things worse.  This is completely unacceptable, and it is one of the key reasons why one third of newly qualified teachers leave within five years.  Over the last few years, the Government has made efforts to draw attention to ways of reducing workload, which the NEU has welcomed, but this report and others continue to show it is not working.  It is obvious to teachers and school leaders that successive education secretaries are failing to solve the problem. Government must face the fact that it is the culture of excessive accountability, brought on by the Department for Education and Ofsted, which acts as the main driver of workload.  Until the Government faces up to reality, workload will continue to increase, and greater numbers will continue to leave the profession”. 

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