7 Dec 2021

Principals, teachers more stressed and exhausted than last year - ERO survey

5:17 am on 7 December 2021

The pandemic is taking an increasingly heavy toll on school teachers and children, a survey has found.

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A significant number of respondents to the ERO survey were worried about children's behaviour and achievement. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The Education Review Office said its study found many teachers believed their pupils' behaviour had deteriorated and teachers themselves were unhappier and more tired than they were last year.

Review office deputy chief executive Ruth Shinoda told RNZ half the country's principals, about 1200 people, and more than 400 teachers responded to the survey.

She said a significant number of respondents were worried about children's behaviour and achievement.

"What they were saying is compared to last year, so June in the previous year, a third of them were saying that the student behaviour had worsened or it was worse than they'd expect. About a quarter were worried that learning was behind, and they were worried about engagement too," Shinoda said.

"When we talked to them, that might have been because students were struggling, they've got high anxiety, they've had a lot of disruption and that might come out in the behaviour at schools."

The survey quoted one respondent as saying: "Year 11 students [are] struggling with taking exams seriously and less likely to do what they need to independently. They are wanting to be spoon-fed work rather than thinking for themselves. They are struggling knowing how to study and even forgetting to put hands up to answer questions as they are not used to being in class. Behaviour has deteriorated."

Another said: "The new entrants who came into school following lockdown caused huge issues for us - the lack of 'school readiness', not being able to sit for a story and the violent behaviour is something we have never seen en masse."

The report said 40 percent of high decile schools observed that behaviour was worse than expected for this time of the year compared to 34 percent of low decile school principals.

It said low decile school principals were twice as likely to report that behaviour was better than expected than high decile school principals (19 percent compared to 8 percent).

The report said the survey also found teachers were less happy with their work.

"Principals and teachers are experiencing increased health anxiety around the Delta variant, along with greater exhaustion, apathy, and stress. Uncertainty around how long the lockdown would last was reported to have impacted negatively on wellbeing," the report said.

"Teachers' and principals' life satisfaction is also low, with only 57 percent of teachers and 62 percent of principals reporting that they were satisfied with their life in June and July 2021. This compares poorly with the overall population, with 86 percent of New Zealanders rating their life satisfaction highly in a survey for Stats New Zealand."

It said 56 percent of respondents were happy with their work down from 62 percent in September last year.

Only 32 percent of teachers and 19 percent of principals felt their workload was manageable, down from 42 percent of teachers and 26 percent of principals last year.

Shinoda said there were things schools could do to ease their workload next year.

She said they should prepare for hybrid teaching, with some children in class and some at home, and also make contingency plans to cope when teachers were absent with Covid.

"To support teachers and principals, because they're having it pretty tough, we also need to think about supporting their wellbeing, counselling, peer support, helping them to use digital expertise that is available," she said.

Shinoda said schools should be helped to share teachers so they would cope better if staff were on sick leave or isolating.

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