Driven to the limit by speed of Tory reforms
"Sportsmen may thrive under pressure, but there is a world of difference between the welcome exhilaration of a ski slope and the anxiety of facing an unmotivated class, redeployment and the threat of school closure."
With this off-the-cuff remark, a delegate caught perfectly the mood of the National Conference of Teachers and Stress, organised by the Centre for Research in Teaching, at Newman College in Birmingham at the weekend.
As more and more demand for curriculum, examination and organisational reforms are made, many teachers are feeling threatened by the once pleasurable challenges of their work.
The 100 delegates were eager to see solutions to the problem after hearing from Dr Chris Kyriacou, a York University researcher, that "teaching is undoubtedly one of the most stressful professions".
One in four teachers finds their work "very or extremely stressful", he said, adding: "I find that staggering." The figure was based not just on his survey of 700 teachers but on a detailed analysis of all available literature on teachers and stress since 1975.
Solutions were quickly offered and ranged from reorganisation of school management and a call to slow the pace of change demanded by the government to the setting up of occupational health support services. A suggestion that all teachers undergo psychological assessment before being allowed into the classroom was extremely unpopular.
The latest information on stress comes from research involving hundreds of teachers in a large West Midlands education authority and will be published later this year. It shows that the overriding cause of stress is the speed of change driven by external forces beyond the control of teachers.
In the words of Dr Tom Cox, director of the Nottingham University stress research group that carried out the Midlands study: "The intrinsic nature of the work has become the problem - teachers banged up in the classroom, on their own and unsupported, uncertain of the LEA's reaction to discipline problems, for example."
Ten years ago, a national study by Dr Cox showed that teachers outnumbered other white-collar workers two to one in suffering from work-related stress. Reasons given by teachers in 1977 were virtually identical to those in the latest work except that then "speed of change" was barely mentioned.