Exclusive: 50,000 teaching days lost each year in Wales due to stress-related illness

New figures show the equivalent of 253 full-time teachers being lost in Wales each year due to stress-related illness. Credit: PA

A leading teaching union has warned that workload pressures faced by teachers in Wales are unsustainable, as ITV News exclusively reveals that they miss almost 50,000 days of school due to stress-related illness each year.

The National Union of Teachers and Plaid Cymru have now called on the Welsh Government to carry out a full workload survey, to understand the scale of the problem and try to remove unnecessary pressures.

They say there is a continuing pattern of Welsh teachers being "pushed to the point of mental exhaustion" due to the demands of workload and excess accountability.

Watch Tom Sheldrick's exclusive report:

New figures

The new figures were obtained by NUT Cymru via Freedom of Information requests to local authorities, and shared with ITV News.

They show that, between 2012 and 2014, on average, each year in Wales:

  • 49,524 days were missed by teachers due to stress-related illness

  • That equates to 253 full-time teachers being lost

  • And costs the Welsh education system £8.41m to bring in supply teachers

Out of Wales' 22 local authorities, 13 saw an increase in the number of teaching days lost in 2014 compared to the previous year.

One council reported a drop of over two-thirds in its statistics, which brought the overall figure for teaching days lost to 47,283 last year.

'You're on a constant treadmill trying to keep things going'

We spoke to a teacher working in a primary school in South Wales.

She has been in the profession for more than a decade, but says things have got much worse in the last few years, and she has had to take several weeks off due to stress-related illness.

She has experienced palpitations, chest pains and felt depression and anxiety, because she says, "sometimes I can't cope with the workload".

She describes a working week of around 60 hours, with a great deal of marking and lesson planning, as well as pressures of accountability and data collection, passed down from above.

She says: "You're on a constant treadmill trying to keep things going. You just can't fit everything in."

She is now looking to leave teaching because, she says, "I don't know how much longer I'd be able to cope with the stress."

We have disguised her identity.

'The current level of pressure in unsustainable'

The National Union of Teachers Cymru says that many teachers are being "burnt out", and there are many more who have not taken time out of school, despite the fact "they're drowning under the pressures they're facing."

Plaid Cymru Education Spokesperson Simon Thomas has joined the union in calling for the Welsh Government to conduct a workload survey of the hours worked by teachers, similar to that conducted recently in England, and look at what measures can be put in place to reduce the burden upon them.

The Welsh Government has responded by saying that it is already "engaging closely with teachers, schools and local authorities to address the profession's concerns over teacher workload."