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Is wellbeing among teachers in England lower than in the rest of the UK?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 16 March 2020

John Jerrim.

The latest set of results from the TALIS 2018 study are about to come out. These will, among other things, present new evidence on how teachers’ mental health and stress levels compare across more than 40 countries. 

While England takes part in TALIS, the rest of the UK does not. This is unfortunate, as it is becoming increasingly difficult to compare education systems across different parts of the UK, despite these comparisons sometimes being the most interesting.

This prompts the question – how exactly does the wellbeing of teachers vary across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales?

Teachers in England are more anxious and less happy

Using data from the Annual Population Survey we can compare levels of anxiety, unhappiness, low life satisfaction and low levels of self-worth across the four consistent countries of the UK. These comparisons can be found in the chart below. 

The standout finding is that teachers in England are more likely to say that they are unhappy (21% of teachers) than their Welsh (18%), Scottish (17%) and Northern Irish (12%) counterparts.

A similar pattern can be seen for levels of anxiety, with teachers in England more likely to report higher levels of anxiety (21%) than those in Scotland (18%) and Northern Ireland (13%). The figure for Wales is close to the English figure, at 20%.

Teachers in England also had lower levels of life satisfaction than teachers in Scotland, though not Wales (the sample size is too small for Northern Ireland). But there was relatively little difference in feelings of low self-worth (which seems less of a problem for teachers than those working in other professions).

An opportunity missed

Unfortunately, we don’t know what is driving this difference between England and other parts of the UK. What is it that we do that makes our teachers less happy and more anxious than their Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts?

Is this finding even work-related? Or is it driven by other factors in other aspects of life? Maybe the sunny Scottish weather, copious amounts of Iron-Bru and the ready availability of haggis could be factors at play.

But the difficulty we have in interpreting these findings is a serious point, and I can’t help but wonder if TALIS represents an opportunity missed to learn about this. 

It asks a large number of teachers about important aspects of their work, including the stress caused by different aspects of their job and whether this is affecting their mental and physical health. To be able to compare this across the four countries within the UK – where qualifications, accountability and school inspections now vary – would have helped us to understand why teachers in England seem to be the most miserable. 

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