NUT Survey: 98% of teachers say pupils affected by concerns around body image

The NUT conducted a one day online members’ survey of secondary school teachers on 7 July to seek views on pupils’ confidence in their body image.  492 secondary school teachers responded. 

Nearly all teachers, 98%,  indicated that some or more of their students are affected by ‘worries about how they look’. This is resulting in many pupils opting out of physical activity or suffering from eating disorders. 

One teacher wrote ’Perception of what a normal body type is has been warped! Plus, the way one should dress and make up expectations are now such that our young people are no longer children. In a secondary school everyone should look at least 18! This hits when generally students get to year 9.’’

Many felt current education policy is hindering teachers from helping young people develop strong self-esteem and positive self-image. In particular: the lack of time to deliver Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), a narrowing of the curriculum and excessive focus on particular subjects because of targets and accountability.  

  • 97% said that some or more of their pupils are affected by sexist or stereotypical comments, with 17% saying that nearly all are and 45% saying that many are. 
  • Nearly two thirds (64%) of teachers think that girls are affected more strongly by body image issues than boys but less than 1% think that boys are more affected than girls. 82% of teachers reported that some or more of their pupils are “opting out of physical activity, such as swimming”. 

Kevin Courtney, General Secretary, National Union of Teacherssaid; ‘Teachers identified that the media has a responsibility to change the way it presents body image and physical appearance. Teachers also told us they want to develop a broad range of learning opportunities to help support students’ self-esteem – using assemblies, PSHE, art, drama, sport and outdoor learning. But this whole school approach is made much harder by national policies which fuel exam factory pressures. Teachers are clear we don’t have the right success criteria for schools. 

‘We simply mustn’t push out arts, dance and drama in an overly narrow focus on academic subjects. Nor must we keep forcing schools to cut pastoral posts and systems because of the school funding cuts. “

What can schools do to help when some pupils are making themselves ill over body image issues? Should social media sites be more responsible? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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