What is the prevalence of occupational stress among post-primary teachers in Ireland? Are supports in place to safeguard their mental health and wellbeing? An exploration of demographic, environmental & organisational predictors of stress among post-primary teachers in Ireland.
Ennis, Sally Ann
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While every job presents with its own set of challenges, frustration and anxiety, teaching is no different. However, occupational stress (OS) among teachers can make their work somewhat more complicated than it has to be, inflicting significant negative influences on employee performance and job satisfaction. The aim of this study was to establish the prevalence of OS among post-primary teachers (PPTs) in Ireland, while identifying the main predictors and manifestations of OS experienced within their working environment. Demographic, environmental and organisational (DEO) predictors of OS were explored and cross-tabulated, to reveal high risk factors/cluster groups that impact on the prevalence/frequency of OS among the profession. The study also explored existing safeguards/support structures that are in place to help alleviate/prevent the occurrence of OS and protect the mental health and wellbeing of PPTs. Hence, a risk assessment of the main predictors and manifestations of OS was produced, while establishing if available supports are utilised by the profession, fit for purpose and in line with, The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. The current study employed a convergent parallel mixed method approach, that simultaneously collected both qualitative (objective) and quantitative (subjective) data via a semi-structured online survey (encompassing both closed and open-ended questions). Data was merged and cross-tabulated, to help strengthen and expand conclusions, heighten knowledge and reinforce the validity of the current research study. Post-primary teachers (PPTs) across Ireland were selected as the preferred sample group to explore the objectives of the study on a national scale. A random sampling procedure was employed inviting participants from the sample population to complete an on-line survey via Qualtrics (a web-based survey tool). Random sampling ensured that all post-primary schools nationally had an equal opportunity to partake in the study. Hence, the geographical location encompassed all urban and rural schools including the five different school types across the republic of Ireland. In total six hundred and fifty respondents (PPTs) completed the on-line survey from a total of 713 surveys that were emailed to each school Principal for dissemination among their teaching staff. Main findings of the current study revealed; 71% of PPTs in Ireland experience OS up to 3 times per week, with 39% of those experiencing OS daily. Female teachers are 9% more likely to experience OS up to 3 times per week, and 8% more likely to experience OS on a daily basis compared to their male counterparts. The main environmental predictors of OS across Irish post-primary schools include; time management, staff shortages and class disruption. While the main organisational predictors of OS include; pay and conditions of the job, the amount of non-paid (extra-curricular) working hours involved, and the demands of the job against the lack of resources available. Regarding supports and interventions; the lack of prioritising and promoting the mental health and wellbeing of PPTs, both in the schools and in the staffrooms is concerning and the lack of supports for teachers to discuss and resolve work related stress is also a cause for concern. Additionally, 63% of the respondents stated that voicing concerns regarding their experiences of OS would compromise their position/status as a teacher. With a further 71% of PPTs agreeing that there is enough CPD training in place yet, raised concerns regarding the content and consistency of the training. Hence, the lack of in-school supports available for teachers, may add to the prevalence and frequency of OS experienced and therefore, adequate in-school supports/interventions may need to be developed/implemented to help alleviate the prevalence of OS experienced by PPTs across Ireland. Some of the most demanding aspects of teaching according to the respondents include; time management, planning classes, curriculum changes and meetings. Followed by workload and administrative duties, student behaviour/lack of disciplinary interventions, management expectations/conflict issues, policy/initiative overload and, the lack of departmental and management support. Some suggestions from the respondents to improve the current situation within their schools include; policy change, CPD and curriculum change/improvement. Followed by improving management staff collaboration, effective communication and support and, reduced administrative duties and workload. The purpose of this research was to add to the body of Irish literature regarding the prevalence of work-related stress among PPTs in Ireland. Results and recommendations that evolved from the study will be made available to schools, agencies and governing departments, affiliated with the Irish post-primary education system. This may help create awareness of the prevalence of occupational stress among the profession and the significance of promoting positive mental health and wellbeing. Interventions or policy change to help alleviate the prevalence/frequency of OS among PPTs in Ireland, should be closely correlated with sustaining a quality administrative, educational and supportive experience. This would act as a ‘parallel process’ benefiting not only teachers but students also, through the effective provision and delivery of education. Additionally, findings and recommendations may enhance or encourage further research in the field of study.
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