Triple the number of school staff calling a crisis support helpline have been assessed a suicide risk as the cost-of-living crisis takes its toll on them and their pupils.
The well-being charity Education Support, which helped more than 100,000 sector workers last year, expects demand for help to outstrip its resources for the first time ever this winter.
In the past five months, nearly 500 education staff have been given financial support – more than in all of the 2021-22 financial year.
“Poor children are a particular source of distress for educators, it hits teachers in a way that little else does,” Sinéad Mc Brearty, the charity’s chief executive told the Conservative party conference in Birmingham on Monday.
“You can deal with bureaucracy, you can deal with dissatisfaction about pay rises. It’s very hard to deal with kids sitting in your classroom who aren’t fed or washed.”
Of the 3,876 callers to the charity’s employee assistance program helpline in 2021, 285 (7.4 per cent) were deemed at risk of suicide. This compares with 276 of the 1,266 callers in the six months since April (21.8 per cent).
Schools pay to access confidential support and guidance from counselors for their staff. About 1,200 schools used the service last year.
‘We urge the government to act now’
The charity also runs a free, 24/7 helpline open to anyone in the education workforce.
It received 9,532 calls last financial year. Of those, 741 people were clinically assessed as at risk of suicide – up 23 per cent on the year before.
Mc Brearty said the situation would worsen as the “cost-of-living crisis deepens and we urge the government to act now to address the drivers of distress.
“We are experiencing a crisis in teaching that will have a huge impact on entire school communities, including the quality of children’s lives and education. It should be a matter of concern for politicians and parents alike.”
Speaking at the conference, Evelyn Forde, head of Copthall School in north London, said she recently had to call an ambulance for a member of staff who, during the school day, had said “I might take these pills”.
“When I graduated years ago, I wasn’t told about the social, emotional and mental health challenges that I would be facing in my classrooms on a day-to-day basis.”
Freedom of Information requests sent by the Lib Dems found that more than seven million teacher work days had been lost to stress and mental health in the past five years.
The figures, provided by 143 local authorities, also showed the number of days lost to mental health was up by 7 per cent in 2021-22 compared with the previous year.
A NASUWT survey of 11,857 members in January found more than 90 per cent felt the job had “adversely affected their mental health” in the past 12 months.
Two thirds of teachers report no counsellor
But two thirds said their school or college did not have a school-based counselor who was accessible to staff and students.
Forde called for more specialist training in schools. Mc Brearty said the government needed to “acknowledge the scale of the problem and act”.
The charity says there has been a 57 per cent increase in grant applications from staff in financial distress since April.
“I don’t expect our charity to be able to meet the need and demand for crisis support this winter, for the first time,” Mc Brearty added.
The Teaching Staff Trust (TST), a hardship charity, received an “unprecedented” 231 applications for grants earlier this year as the cost-of-living squeeze bit – more than twice pre-pandemic levels.
It was so overwhelmed recently that it had to temporarily stop taking applications.
Food requests top housing in pleas from school staff
Help with housing costs is normally the most popular request at Education Support. But essential expenses – including food – topped the list of grants issued since April.
Of those applying for help since April, 241 were teachers, 51 supply teachers and 201 teaching assistants.
The DfE currently offers a £1,200 grant to state-funded schools to train a senior mental health lead to implement a “whole school approach” to mental health and wellbeing.
Between October 2021 and March this year, 8,000 schools and colleges had claimed a grant. The DfE wants to reach all schools in England by 2025.
A DfE spokesperson has previously said it was “taking action to support teachers to stay in the profession and thrive.
“This includes increasing pay and launching the Education Staff Wellbeing Charter, which commits to reducing unnecessary teacher workload, championing flexible working and improving access to wellbeing resources.”