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NASUWT conference: Teachers pass motion calling for suicide prevention support

teacher marking student's work
[Getty Images]

Teachers have supported calls for all school leaders to be given suicide prevention training amid warnings of a "mental health emergency".

A motion was passed on Sunday at teachers' union NASUWT's annual conference in Harrogate.

It warned of a "rise in suicide, suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts within the teaching profession".

Education watchdog Ofsted has faced greater scrutiny since the suicide of headteacher Ruth Perry.

The 53-year-old took her own life in January 2023 after an Ofsted report downgraded her school in Reading.

At her inquest, a coroner ruled the Ofsted inspection "contributed" to her death and warned there was a risk of further deaths "unless action was taken".

The motion passed called on NASUWT's executive to campaign for there to be staff in all schools and colleges trained in mental health first aid, as well as fully-funded, mandatory mental health training.

Delegates voted for the union to campaign for suicide prevention training for all school leaders, and implement suicide prevention training for caseworkers and union representatives.

Row Martin, proposer of the motion, listed a number of teachers who had taken their lives in recent years, including school leader Mrs Perry.

At the conference, she said: "This is a hard motion to speak about, but we have to speak about. It is a very sensitive, real issue of our profession."

"We cannot afford to lose any more teachers," Ms Martin added.

The motion, which warned the pressures of the job are "leading to a mental health emergency" and that teachers' health "is reaching a crisis point", was unanimously carried.

Claire Ward, a teacher and union representative for Lancashire, told the BBC that NASUWT had been getting reports across the country about an increasing number of teachers experiencing poor mental health, suicidal thoughts and attempting suicide.

"We know from the very sad suicide of Ruth Perry following the Ofsted that it is on the increase unfortunately, and more and more teachers are feeling the pressure," she said.

"All this is going to do is increase the recruitment and retention crisis we have."

During the debate, delegate Kuldip Hoonjan from Leicestershire said two teacher friends had taken their lives and that her personal experience was "too painful" to share.

One teacher, who did not want their name published, told the conference she had "repeatedly thought of suicide" and considered quitting her career after starting at a school with challenging pupil behaviour.

She added: "We are being failed and we together need to work to do more to protect ourselves, each other and the pupils in our schools."

Another delegate, Karen Brocklebank, suggested the "stresses of rigorous classroom inspections, government targets, unmanageable amounts of paperwork and 50 hour-plus working weeks" had contributed to an increase in suicide rates and serious mental health problems among school staff.

NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach warned "too many teachers are having their health destroyed" while others leave the profession to "save their sanity".

"Nobody should be brought to the brink of ending their own life because of their job," he said.

The motion came as NASUWT revealed a voluntary survey of 11,754 members in the UK found 86% of teachers who responded believed their job adversely affected their mental health in the last 12 months.

Nearly a quarter (23%) increased their alcohol intake in the past year because of work, while 12% reported using or increasing their reliance on antidepressants.

Among those surveyed, 3% said they self-harmed in the last 12 months because of work.

The Department for Education (DfE) offered a £1,200 grant for state schools in England to train a mental health leader, with applications set to close on Sunday.

A DfE spokesperson said: "We recognise the extraordinary work that headteachers, teachers and other staff in schools provide, and we take their wellbeing very seriously.

"Our Education Staff Wellbeing Charter ensures that staff wellbeing policy is integrated within schools' culture alongside the expansion of our £2m investment to provide professional supervision and counselling to school and college leaders."

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this story you can visit BBC Action Line.