Teachers felt more positive about their schools during than before the pandemic and understanding why is important for the future, writes Ben Aldridge
As 2020 comes to a close, it would be easy to focus our reflections on the challenges we’ve faced as a profession. However, a little-discussed Pearson survey from earlier this year may provide a better starting point. It showed that, despite the pandemic, the number of staff feeling positive about their school environment has actually increased since before Covid-19.
These findings, which encompassed the views of 1,000 UK teaching staff gathered through field work carried out in August, showed that more than four out of five respondents (85 per cent) rated their schools as either ‘very happy and healthy’ or ‘fairly happy and healthy’ – a rise of 14 per cent since the same questions were posed in December 2019. Levels of confidence in the outcomes that the British education system provides had also risen.
The lack of publicity for these positive findings may be down to their being so at odds with what we know is going on across the sector as well as with findings elsewhere in the survey. In fact, 82 per cent of teachers said they were worried about the impact of the pandemic on their pupils’ mental health. Similarly, more than half of respondents reported witnessing more pupils suffering with anxiety than before the pandemic, while two-thirds felt anxious about their own return to school. Significant concern was also expressed about the mental health implications of the pandemic on teachers, school leaders, and families.
My colleagues and I have discovered a new sense of purpose over lockdown, and it has endured since
Simultaneously, NHS data was released revealing that lockdown had led to a 50 per cent rise in children with mental health problems and that pupils were considered to be three months behind in their learning. And given a news cycle understandably focused on the most turbulent of school years – with challenges regarding access, support and wellbeing – making sense of this increase in teachers’ views of their school’s health and happiness seems simply to have proved too much for the commentariat.
Drilling down into the data, a similar proportion of teachers, by phase and role, responded to the two surveys. Slightly fewer teaching assistants took part in the 2020 survey, but that is unlikely to have swung the data to that extent. For secondary schools, for example, the proportion of teachers who rated their school as happy and healthy actually rose by 20 per cent.
But this only appears counterintuitive until you listen to teachers. In reality, my colleagues and I have discovered a new sense of purpose over lockdown, and it has endured since. During this widespread adversity we have been reminded of the importance of our roles, witnessing – first-hand – the positive impact that our commitment has on pupils. Professionally speaking, recent events have offered a welcome reminder of why I joined education in the first place, and a renewed enthusiasm. We may be flagging as the holidays approach, but that’s worth hanging onto.
Priorities have shifted since the pandemic too – schools do not see themselves as an island focused on grades. The Pearson research shows that building strong relationships with their local communities is now deemed just as important as academic achievement.
And the shift in perspective and positivity could be due to how confident the profession feels in handling the challenges that come our way. Let’s face it: we’ve had to be, and we’ve proved we can.
So despite the significant wellbeing concerns and challenges that face us, three-quarters (75 per cent) of teachers said they were confident supporting their students’ health and wellbeing. The same proportion were confident they could support students to catch up with their learning while keeping on track with the curriculum.
In the run-up to Christmas, teachers discovered whole new levels of exhaustion, but it is certainly worth casting our minds back to August. Assuming positive trends on workload resume, a renewed sense of professional purpose and confidence are strong foundations to build on when the pandemic ends and strong grounds for optimism for 2021.