Thursday, 1 March 2012

Are UK teachers more likely to commit suicide than those in other countries?

My previous posts on teacher suicide have prompted me to do some more investigating.

When you search the internet for 'OFSTED' and 'suicide' this throws up a number of stories about teachers who have committed suicide and where OFSTED has been identified as a factor leading to the suicide.  Other work-related causes also feature in reports of teacher suicides.

I wondered if anyone had explored trends in teacher suicides to see if there were any common occupational  factors emerging. In my attempt to do this, I contacted the Centre for Suicide Research at Oxford University.

They advised me that "Coroners’ records are highly confidential and, from our own experience, it is very difficult to get the information required." However, they also sent me some research about suicides amongst different occupations in Denmark.

The research is concerned mainly with medical professionals but teachers are used as a 'control' occupation which allows us to see how teacher suicides in Denmark compare with the average for 'all occupations'.  Interestingly, in Denmark, teachers are LESS likely to commit suicide than 'all occupations'. Teacher suicide rates there are around 80% of the 'all occupations' rate.  In contrast, we know in the UK that teacher suicide rates are around 40% higher than for 'all occupations'. 

It is clear that further inquiry will be needed to draw any firm conclusions.  If worldwide teacher suicide rates were fairly consistent that would be unsurprising.  If they vary significantly, that prompts some investigation into the different expectations of teachers in different countries.

I now intend to investigate the differences between employment expectations in Denmark and the UK.  UK teachers often cite oppressive accountability systems and unmanageable work demands as major causes of work stress. These are two areas to consider in any comparison of teaching in Denmark and the UK.

I also think that there needs to be more investigation into the occupational causes of teacher suicides.  It isn't enough to cite the confidentiality of coroner's records as a reason for not looking at this in more detail. I have asked my MP, Vernon Coaker, to ask some ministerial questions about teacher suicide trends and am awaiting a response from him.

When I have more to say, I'll blog again.

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