A 54-year-old primary school teacher from Bristol committed suicide by setting himself on fire just as school was about to return after the summer holidays.
Andrew Jones, Husband and father of two described as a “caring and sensitive” man killed himself after suffering years of pressure and stress at work, an inquest into his death has heard.
This disturbing case highlights the shocking reality of teacher stress, depression and rising suicide rates in the profession.
In 2015 the suicide rate among primary school teachers in England was nearly twice as high as that of the national average.
Mr Jones worked at Park Primary School in Bristol and had been placed under a “capability review” in April this year after failing a classroom observation.
Shortly after this, Mr Jones broke down in a meeting with senior staff who decided he wasn’t fit to teach. He was then sent home, and would tragically never return.
Park Primary school’s website boasts of their latest Ofsted report saying they were rated “good with outstanding features”.
The report says:
The school’s work to promote pupils’ personal development and welfare is outstanding. Teachers know their pupils’ learning needs very well and they plan work that helps to build on what pupils know, understand and can do.
Lessons are interesting, and as a result pupils show a keen interest and want to complete tasks and move on to the next. Expectations are high and pupils show great pride in their work. There is a strong sense of values and respect that weaves through all aspects of school life.
At the inquest, Mr Jones’ friend David Chapman described him as a “genuinely good and fun-loving guy” but added that he had become more and more anxious about work, believing he might be replaced by a younger, cheaper teacher.
Dr Katy Juttner, of Bedminster Family Practice, told the inquest that Mr Jones had sought help for his mental health after being placed under observation by the school back in 2012, as a result of the school setting new targets.
He returned earlier this year, with the stress of being under review in lessons once again taking its toll on his health.
Mr Jones’ wife told the inquest that:
When he found out that he would be under review he felt hopeless. He started a period of sick leave from his job. His mental health spiralled. He was a broken man, not knowing where to turn.
After 25 years of knowing Andy as a man who embraced life, I was now seeing really significant personality changes.
He was a man who was always passionate about life. With his modest personality he never imposed his own beliefs on others.
He had the energy to inspire children academically and physically with his love of staying fit at school.
Mr Jones had been seeking help for his mental health from various Doctors over the summer after the latest school observation, as he suffered from suicidal thoughts and exhibited clear signs of stress, depression, and anxiety.
The inquest heard that he had commented to several friends that his family would be better off if he was dead — however, no one felt he might be serious about the “line of thought”.
The inquest heard that he believed that the family would not be able to cope financially and would lose their home.
Mrs Jones said she last saw her husband on August 31st this year at 6pm. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary and he usually left the house without saying goodbye and she thought he had gone to play 5-a-side football.
At 6.51pm an ambulance was called to a man who had set himself on fire near a golf course, an incident witnessed by several members of the public in the process.
Concluding that his death was a suicide, assistant coroner Myfanwy Buckeridge said:
This is a very tragic account of a man who was appreciated by not only his family but a large group of friends.
Work-related issues seemed to trigger a decline in his mental health.
He described not being able to imagine a life outside teaching.
Mrs Buckeridge added that:
I’m moved in this case by the many, many statements that state Mr Jones was previously fit, healthy and well-liked.
And concluded his statement by summing up that:
I am satisfied that in the moment he did intend that death would result from the steps that he took. I conclude the cause of death was suicide.
Sadly, Mr Jones’ suicide is far from an isolated event — suicide is becoming all too common in the teaching profession.
Since 2001 the amount of teachers committing suicide has been on an overall upward trend as illustrated here:
Between 2008-09 there was a staggering 80% increase in the amount of teacher suicide.
Last year, 31-year-old science teacher Laurian Bold, was “worked to death” and jumped off a bridge on the M26 — killing herself as a result of stress and illness related to her job at Hollingworth Academy, Rochdale.
While we cannot comment on the intricacies of each and every case, it is clear that from the tragic case of Mr Jones and that of previous teacher suicides that the neoliberalisation of the profession is driving many to desperation and breaking point.
Since the Thatcher decree of “free-market” individualism in the 1980’s, schools have come to resemble businesses rather than places of learning central to the fabric of their communities.
Schools are forced to “compete” to hit certain arbitrary targets with more and more pressure increasingly being placed on teachers and schools in order for them survive.
Amidst a backdrop of billions of pounds of endless Tory cuts and austerity, schools have been forced to cut back on the most basic of educational resources and lessons.
The disastrous and corrupt academy school model is a corporate structure: with CEO type figures sitting at the top pocketing huge sums of taxpayer’s money and dictating to anybody below them how the school must be run. Academy schools are free from any form of public democratic control just like corporations, ultimately turning schools into faceless brands, rather than thriving centers of community life.
Teachers are frequently observed during lessons by an ever-expanding group of middle managers who often are compelled to find some sort of teacher failure, in order to hit some sort of target at the whim of the managers at the top.
Such things essentially turn teachers into micro managers of children, whose success can only be judged by a limited set of non-negotiable targets, not from actual teaching and relationships with students and parents, or indeed quality of teaching.
This kind of management structure (more appropriately referred to as control) in schools has become a tyranny for staff, pupils and parents.
In order to meet these targets teachers often work around 60 hours a week, despite being only paid for 32 of those.
Performance related pay is now common in teaching and based on these arbitrary pupil targets, financially “incentivising” teachers to hit targets is a perversion of the very principles on which education is based on in the first place. Aside from this, there is no evidence to support the claim that this actually incentivises teachers: much evidence, in fact, speaks to the contrary.
Around 10,000 teachers left Secondary teaching between 2010 and 2015, with the Government’s Education Selection Committee admitting that we now have a teacher shortage “crisis”.
Furthermore, teacher’s pay, like most in the public sector, has been capped for years under austerity, and has decreased in real terms since at least the crash of 2008.
Surely it is unsurprising then, given all these hugely stressful aspects, that teaching also has one of the highest suicide rates out of all professions.
The reason for the neoliberal attack on education is both driven by monetary gain for a few and an ideological attack on the principles of socialism and solidarity.
Public education is built on the principle that we as the public fund and support the teaching of our children in a space in which everybody is equal, and everybody helps everybody else and shares to build the community.
This, of course, is incompatible with neoliberal ideology: where everybody must be pitted against everybody in competition: child against child, teacher against teacher, school against school, all competing to get the outcomes the government has decided they need to.
Neoliberalism has provably broken people everywhere that it has been implemented: it literally destroys lives, communities, families, and careers.
As the tragic case of Mr Jones shows us, this system of tyranny takes good, caring, sensitive, socially driven people who are doing one of the most important and hardest jobs in society, and drives them to do the unthinkable.
Most people who are thinking of taking their own life have shown warning signs beforehand.
These can include becoming depressed, showing sudden changes in behaviour, talking about wanting to die and feelings of hopelessness.
These feelings do improve and can be treated. If you are concerned about someone, or need help yourself, please contact the Samaritans on 116 123.
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