The Herald: Another wrong headline based on unreliable figures


I’m happy to use the words above minus any speech marks.

In the Herald today:

Half of teachers experience depression and anxiety problems amid ‘pressures of the job’

They did need speech-marks, but they really should have been around nearly all of  the other words:

‘Half’ of teachers ‘experience depression and anxiety problems’ amid ‘pressures of the job’

First the claims:

‘Half of teachers say the stress of the classroom is taking a toll on their mental wellbeing, as a survey today reveals the scale of depression and anxiety on the profession.  A survey by the Mental Health Foundation Scotland found that a high number of teachers believed the pressures of the job had led them to experience episodes of psychological and emotional distress, with 51% saying that the felt it had exacerbated an existing mental health problem such as depression or anxiety or to develop symptoms. The findings come amid a recruitment and retention crisis blighting the teaching workforce and an ongoing row over pay which threatens to culminate in national strikes and school closures, with teachers’ morale said to be at an all-time low.’

What about the methodology?

‘The findings are based on a survey of 1000 teachers by the Mental Health Foundation Scotland, to which 418 responded.’

This is easier than assessing an undergraduate research project.

First, this is research carried out by a pressure group with an agenda. Did they make the cardinal error of trying to find what they hoped would be there in the first place? Was the EIS involved in any way? FAIL!

Second, only just over 40% of the identified sample responded. So, is the sample still representative in terms of gender, age, experience, geography etc?

The response is based on self-selection and so, given the topic, will be consequently skewed toward those who perceive themselves to have experienced mental health problems. At best, we can only reliably say that around one quarter (around 220 of the 418 respondents) of those who have reported experiencing ‘mental health problems’ think the pressures of the job may have caused them. Reporting ‘episodes of psychological and emotional distress’ is not the same thing at all.

Depending on details we have not seen and the meaning of the above wording, the 51% may actually be of only those who had already indicated that they had an existing mental health problem. How many respondents indicated at the outset that they have a clinical form of depression and/or anxiety, based on at least being formally diagnosed for it and before reading the subsequent questions?

Given confusion about the nature of clinical depression and anxiety as opposed to everyday ‘normal’ and temporary levels of depressed or anxious feelings, and the lack of any professional confirmation by a doctor, the level of these conditions is likely to be exaggerated, especially where the response is self-selecting

Interestingly, this appears headlined in the Herald on the same day that good news of increased teacher-training numbers and falling vacancy rates appears elsewhere.



5 thoughts on “The Herald: Another wrong headline based on unreliable figures

  1. Brobb December 10, 2018 / 8:39 am

    Depressingly familiar “research” John, always good to have you challenge these

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Legerwood December 10, 2018 / 11:47 am

    Given that there were 51,513 teachers in Scottish schools in 2017, up from 50,568 in 2014, then an unweighted response of 418 is not going to give a very meaningful result. Teaching is stressful as indeed is any job but it is particularly more so if the training for the job is inadequate and this is likely to be a factor with teachers. Their response to the changes brought about in the implementation of Curruculum for Excellence and the difficulty many seem to have with it, and the increase in stress, points to a workforce that is not adequately trained for the job.

    Perhaps it is time for a root and branch review of teacher training.

    Liked by 1 person

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