Burnout warning as school staff become ‘de facto social workers’

Most school staff work at least four extra hours a week providing support previously offered by collapsed social and healthcare services, report finds

Most school staff work at least four extra hours a week providing support previously offered by collapsed social and healthcare services, report finds

10 May 2023, 0:01

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School staff report liaising with parents and feeding pupils among their increased additional responsibilities

Most school staff are working at least four extra hours a week to provide additional support to pupils amid warnings they are now the “de facto and unofficial branch of social and healthcare services”.

A new report from wellbeing service Education Support shows a quarter of leaders, teachers and support staff said additional responsibilities were adding, on average, between four to six hours onto their working week.

Another 15 per cent of staff said they were spending an extra seven to 10 hours a week providing services including emotional and wellbeing support for children.

A Schools Week investigation last week revealed the widespread scale of the collapse in support services feeding into schools.

It found health services are creaking as demand for mental health intervention among children and teenagers spikes, while soaring numbers of pupils requiring additional support has left the SEND system unable to cope.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of leaders’ union ASCL, said staff had become the “de facto and unofficial branch of social and healthcare services”.

But “without the training, capacity or resources to discharge such responsibilities” it places staff under “intolerable workload and stress, and this situation is not nearly good enough for children and young people who need dedicated and specialist support”.

Teachers prepare meals and clean clothes for kids

The most common additional responsibilities cited by school staff included offering pupils and colleagues emotional support (62 and 50 per cent respectively) and dealing with difficult pupil behaviour (62 per cent).

Figures were taken from a poll of 3,082 people by Education Support and YouGov in June and July last year.

In a separate survey of more than 1,000 secondary teachers undertaken by the charity in October, nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) said they were regularly helping pupils with non-academic matters.

Duties have also increased, with 72 per cent saying they were helping pupils with non-academic matters more than they did five years ago.

A third of teachers had helped pupils resolve a family conflict.

Alongside emotional support, teachers also reported helping their pupils with more practical issues.

More than a quarter (26 per cent) said they had prepared food for pupils when they didn’t have any, and 41 per cent said they had bought supplies such as pens, paper and bags for pupils.

Another 13 per cent had cleaned clothes when needed for pupil, and 10 per cent said they had bought pupils parts of their school uniform.

Extra duties impact staff wellbeing

Nearly three-quarters of staff who responded to the YouGov survey said their extra duties have had a negative impact on their mental health.

The figure was higher for senior leaders, at 81 per cent.

Education Support’s chief executive Sinead Mc Brearty warned is this continued “we will burnout a generation of talented and dedicated staff” and compound the current recruitment and retention crisis.

“The job that teachers are currently trained for does not match the daily reality of providing emotional and mental health support, resolving family conflict and providing food and clothes.”

Nearly two-fifths (39 per cent) of respondents said they did not feel prepared for supporting vulnerable pupils and their families, while 32 per cent did not feel prepared to deal with difficult behaviour.

Education Support recommended that initial teacher education and early career frameworks be updated to “reflect the new reality of life in schools”.

Recruitment strategies must reflect ‘new reality’

In the same YouGov survey, two-thirds of school staff said public bodies such as CAHMS, social services and the NHS had been able to offer pupils either no or little support.

The report requested policymakers “decide whether schools are the front line of children’s services” or not, adding: “The status quo is failing children and education staff.”

Either way, the charity argued that the government needed to ensure there was sufficient support in the system over the next five years for improvements.

This could include “supporting educators through ring-fenced funding for reflective practice or professional supervision for those in roles most at risk of emotional exhaustion”, such as SENCos and safeguarding leads.

It added that by “systemically addressing the drivers of poor wellbeing, a range of changes can be mapped and implemented to improve the attractiveness of the profession”.

The recruitment and retention crisis is set to deepen this year with analysis suggesting the government will recruit fewer than half of the secondary trainees required for 2023-24.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at leaders’ union NAHT, said: “As a result of cuts to vital support services, school leaders and their staff increasingly end up acting as teachers, social workers and counsellors rolled into one, as they struggle to help families access stretched, under-funded provision.

“We cannot continue to expect school staff to continue to step in and fill the gaps created by the chronic underfunding of these vital services.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We recognise how hard teachers work to transform children’s lives up and down the country and are listening to teachers about the issues that affect them most.”

They added that mental health support teams were “supporting thousands of schools across the country”, while the government was investing £760,000 in a scheme providing one to one supervision and counselling to school leaders.

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  1. Patrick Obikwu

    A major part of the problem is due to an acute shortage of competent leadership. Many in education leadership and management are bereft of requisite knowledge, skills, and understanding about education, cognitive science, learning, and human empathy. As a consequence they are blind and mute to the critical and diverse roles beyond just teaching that teachers play in the educational ecosystem and successful learning outcomes. The wellbeing of teachers is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of students and their education (academic achievement and holistic development).


      A very insightful, thought provoking and well written observation of the current status quo.
      Thank you for providing a different perspective on this crucial issue.