Worlds of Education

Teacher wellbeing – a global challenge

published 10 October 2023 updated 9 October 2023
written by:

The publication of this year’s International Barometer of Education Staff (I-BEST 2023) offers the unusual opportunity to hear directly from over 26,000 educators from around the world. Whilst the profile and context of the countries involved varies significantly, I am struck by how much commonality there is in the broad trends reported by researchers. Of course there are meaningful differences in the experience of autonomy at work, access to healthcare and salary across participating countries, but there is convergence in key themes related to the wellbeing of the workforce.

At Education Support, we argue for a systemic approach to workforce wellbeing in education. The results of I-BEST 2023 reinforce that belief, highlighting the need for improvement at the level of national education policy-making and in school level decision-making.

To begin, we must celebrate the fact that if they had their time again, the majority of education staff would still choose to work in schools. The passion and commitment of education staff is perhaps the greatest asset we have in our education systems worldwide. Follow up qualitative work might inquire about the lower scores in Morocco, Cameroon and Japan, but overall this finding provides hope in what is otherwise a gloomy picture of the health of the profession around the globe.

My organisation routinely researches the health and wellbeing of education staff [1]. In that sense, much of what is reported here is familiar to me from our work locally in the United Kingdom as well as through recent research we undertook on behalf of Education International (forthcoming). In particular, three findings give me cause for concern.

Firstly, poor work/life balance is a consistent theme across the world. The I-BEST research reports troublingly poor scores for France, Belgium, UK and Canada. Whilst Argentina, Morocco, Switzerland and Cameroon do better on this metric, there are still more than a third of teachers in those countries reporting an unhealthy imbalance. This matters because of the significant impact that poor work/life balance can have on those affected. According to the World Happiness Report 2017 “Those who have a job that leaves them too tired to enjoy the non-work elements of their lives report levels of positive affect in their day-to-day lives that are substantially lower than those who do not. [2]” This in turn can be correlated to stress, burnout, intention to leave the profession and a negative impact on outcomes from children and young people [3].

Secondly, I am struck by the convergence in responses around the perceived low status of the education profession. There is further work to be done to understand how Japan bucks the trend positively here (and relativity to other professions), but the experience of educators in France and Belgium is particularly concerning. Covid-19 illustrated just how much communities need teachers, but needing is not the same as valuing. Professor Tanya Overden-Hope highlights that “agencies that control teacher recruitment and oversee teacher retention have not realised the importance of ‘status’ in establishing a set of circumstances that contribute to declining trainee teacher numbers and increasing teacher attrition.” [4]

Thirdly, the emergence of violence in the education workplace is a theme that ought to disturb policymakers in all settings. Again, Japan is an outlier with 4% of staff experiencing violence at work. In all other territories, an astonishing 22-40% of those surveyed report that they have been a victim of workplace violence. Most perpetrators are pupils, colleagues and parents, though notably in Morocco and Cameroon violence is coming from actors external to the school community.

These factors are interconnected in a variety of ways across the different national and regional contexts. The fact that educator job satisfaction is so low though, speaks to the corrosive effect that these factors have in all settings. Less than half the workforce experience job satisfaction in Cameroon, Morocco, UK and France.

At Education Support, we argue for a systemic approach to workforce wellbeing in education [5]. The results of I-BEST 2023 reinforce that belief, highlighting the need for improvement at the level of national education policy-making and in school level decision-making. Alongside that, we hope that educators can be supported to attend to their own wellbeing in the face of excessive work demands.

Reading this report and data, it is not hard to join the dots to serious teacher recruitment and retention problems. Over time, the attractiveness of the profession is diminished by the negative experiences of working in schools. The thanklessness of the task is apparent to children and young people and few parents will encourage their children on a teaching career path.

In the short term, we delude ourselves if we imagine that professionals with poor work/life balance, poor professional status and exposure to workplace violence are going to be able to do their best work.

It is time for some fresh thinking on raising the job satisfaction of teachers, while we still have them.

2. ^

De Neve, JE and Ward, G, 2017, Happiness at Work, World Happiness Report 2017, p 170.

4. ^

Ovenden-Hope, T (2022). A status-based crisis of teacher shortages? Research in Teacher Education, Vol 12, No.1 pp 36-42.

5. ^

Mc Brearty, S (2020). Teacher wellbeing: A systemic perspective(blog post). Part of a series ‘Researching education and mental health: From ‘Where we are now’? to ‘What’s next?’.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.