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

15 July 2017

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.’’

Teachers felt that the media and social media made their lives more difficult in helping young people develop strong self-esteem and positive self – image. “Social media is king at the moment and they live their lives by what they see on it.’’

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.  

Key Findings:

  • 98% of teachers said that some or more of their students are affected by worries about how they look. Well over a third (38%) said that “nearly all” of their students are affected, while half (50%) said many are affected. 
  • Similarly, 98% said that some or more of their students are affected by “societal pressure to look a certain way”. More than a third (34%) of teachers said that “nearly all” their students are affected by this pressure while more than half (51%) said many are. 
  • 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”. 
  • A quarter (25%) said that this is the case with many of their pupils. 93% of teachers surveyed reported that some or more of their pupils are affected by eating disorders. A considerable proportion (13%) said that many of their pupils are affected.

Kevin Courtney, General Secretary, National Union of Teachers, said; “We're delighted the Youth Select Committee is exploring body image and children and young people’s self-esteem. Our new figures show that teachers believe negative body image flows largely from the pressures to look a certain way on social media. Teachers identified that young people are looking to a narrow range of  celebrities as role models.  This snap shot survey identifies the work we need to do to help young people recognise that we come in all shapes, sizes and ages; and to break down the stereotypes about appearances which flow from sexism and racism. 

‘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. "

Survey on pupils' body image114 KB
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