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Is Teaching Driving you to Drink?

Hitting the bottle to cope with the pressures of the job? Forget the macho long hours and cut yourself some slack...

  • Is Teaching Driving you to Drink?

Shock, horror! A third of all school staff have turned to alcohol to cope with workplace stress or anxiety in the last year, according to research from the Education Support Partnership.

Are you surprised it’s only a third? And what does ‘turned to alcohol’ mean, anyway?

Two small glasses of pinot and an M&S meal for two to say TFI Friday, or being found slumped in the boiler room surrounded by empty cans of Tennent’s Super lager?

At 37 percent, compared with teachers at 30%, heads and leaders are even more inclined to seek the solution to those poor SATs results at the bottom of a glass. But then, management salaries can afford a bigger booze bill.

In the survey, 80% describe themselves as stressed, while 59% work more than 51 hours a week – even though only 5% are contracted to do so.

The report identified a large rise in insomnia, irritability and tearfulness among education professionals, and that senior leaders were more likely to suffer from all these symptoms than teachers.

Heads, of course, have a duty of care and should look out for their staff, spot the early signs of stress and do something about it. But who is doing that for heads?

Sadly, leaders are sometimes their own worst enemies, becoming the victims of their own lack of control, poor judgement or simply an unwillingness to say no. Remember, not everything has to be done to Rolls Royce standards; occasionally an old Ford Fiesta will get you there just as well.

Also, heads sometimes can’t resist demonstrating their authoritative leadership by constant tinkering and sticking their oar in when the boat is doing just fine by itself – something they are quick to criticise DfE and Ofsted for, and which impacts negatively on them and their staff.

If something is working fine, don’t start interfering because you’ve been on a course or feel the need to show the staff “who’s bloody well boss round here”. Or even, whisper it, to garner another measly 1% on your progress scores. It is seldom worth it.

The DfE were concerned enough to set up a Workload Advisory Group and their recommendations include:

  • Having only simple systems to log behaviour incidents and other pastoral information
  • Minimising or eliminating the number of pieces of information teachers are expected to compile
  • Reviewing your approach to reporting and parental engagement in a way that is manageable for teachers
  • Having no more than two or three attainment data collection points a year
  • Not making pay progression for teachers dependent on quantitative assessment metrics, such as test outcomes

All of the above are actually saying to heads, “Cut yourself and your staff some slack, for goodness’ sake!” And that last one is a biggy as it dramatically lowers the stakes and, presumably, the stress of performance reviewees.

Frankly, if you are spending ridiculous amounts of time at work, no wonder you turn to alcohol. You are not the Wolf of Wall Street; at best, you are the Bunny of Bash Street. Forget the macho long hours: regular 12-hour days mean you are doing the job wrong.

Next time governors or inspectors (or, in teachers’ case, your head) ask you for some non-essential piece of data, stand up for yourself: if it’s not on the school improvement plan or it will not add anything for the children, just say no!

If enough of us did, things might improve. While we are moaning but compliant, people will keep shovelling shit on us.

Ultimately, there are very few things in life actually worth getting worked up (or drunk) about and they generally relate to families and relationships rather than work.

So do yourself a favour: leave your work on time at least two days a week (and make sure all staff do the same), put the cork back in the bottle, stick on a box set (The Walking Dead in my case) and turn off for a bit.

Oh, and next time you see the head emerging from Aldi with bags full of clanking bottles of Buckfast, try not to judge. Give yourselves a break – you deserve it.


Kevin Harcombe is a Teaching Awards winner and headteacher at Redlands Primary School, Fareham. Follow him on Twitter at @kevharcombe.

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