ATL President Shelagh Hirst at TUC 2016

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16 February 2015 by ATL
Speech by Shelagh Hirst, ATL President, in support of seconded composite 11 at TUC 2016.

President, Congress:

The current education system is toxic – toxic to the mental health and wellbeing of our education workforce and our students, caused by the crushing and unreasonable workload of staff and the farcical testing regime imposed on students.

Excessive workload, associated stress and poor work/life balance is particularly caused by the rushed implementation of education reforms by government without any concern over the impact on the workforce or students – Government ideology trumping implementation planning.

It's no wonder there's a crisis in recruitment and retention in education as highlighted in last week's National Foundation for Educational Research report * which found that job satisfaction, workload, having adequate resources, reward and recognition were key factors in retaining staff. Reports of newly qualified teachers resigning within weeks of starting in the profession, due to excessive paperwork and timetable overload, are extremely concerning.

ATL's extensive workload survey led to our innovative and pioneering online workload tracker, available across the workforce, identifies personal drivers of workload. This, in conjunction with ATL's Make One Change campaign, has enabled the widespread sharing of brilliant ideas to empower the profession to begin to conquer the workload mountain.

But what is the Government doing about workload? They acknowledge there is a problem but are not doing enough to tackle the underlying causes.

ATL members are clear that testing and exams are the most significant cause of poor mental health and stress for our students. A view that is evidenced by the significant rise of children accessing help and advice from ChildLine because of pressures linked to academic achievement and fear of failing.

How can anyone ignore the overwhelming evidence from NSPCC, ComRes and Mental Health Foundation reports highlighting that three children in every classroom are affected and who also have problems accessing the services and support they need. Apparently too many children are just not ill enough to be helped. 2 mins Cuts to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and the sacking of the Children's Mental Health Tsar are symptomatic of a Government that does not understand the extent of the issue – Government ideology damaging our children's mental health.

Let's be clear, the deteriorating mental health of teachers impacts the quality of education they can provide for students which in turn impacts their mental health and wellbeing.

The Government has to take seriously its responsibility for the poor mental health and wellbeing of its workforce and students and put in place an action plan to address this.

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