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Are you part of the equation?

Teacher Support Scotland is planning to use that most famous of equations, E=MC2, as the title for its December 5 conference.

But the discussion will be about a different form of relativity, the effectiveness of teachers relative to their well-being. Effectiveness is the 'E' in the equation.

Effectiveness can only be achieved when people and organisations are fully functioning. That means up to the job, present and fit in mind and body.

The Health and Safety Executive's recent seminar on public sector stress (TESS, October 20) suggests that teachers' effectiveness may be compromised because of the pressures of the job.

According to the HSE, managing individual and organisational well-being can reduce barriers to effectiveness, such as sickness, high staff turnover, low morale and self-esteem, stress and burn-out. Managing is the 'M' in the equation.

Managing individuals and organisations doesn't happen in a vacuum.

Politics, policies and practices are the dynamics which make teachers and, therefore, schools effective. These have to be understood and the conditions created where they act together to improve, not impede effectiveness. Creating the conditions is 'C' in the equation.

Equations are theoretical until they can be demonstrated in practice: take Marks and Spencer, for example. In the cut-throat high street, effectiveness = survival. MS employs 70,000 people and spends more than pound;20 million a year on occupational health and staff well-being. They have worked out the equation and calculated that investing in employee well-being reduces absence, retains good people, and improves individual and organisational effectiveness.

As far as I know, and surprisingly, there are no accurate figures available for teachers' sickness. Let's assume it is 4 per cent, which is on a par with the private sector - though less than the public sector. The cost would be around pound;100 million a year. It is possible that we are on the cusp of a steady rise in sickness and absence, since three out of five teachers are over the age of 40.

According to research carried out for the Scottish Public Pensions Agency, almost four out of 10 teachers take early retirement due to ill health because of psychological causes - twice that of health workers. Under these circumstances, getting tough on them is unlikely to have much effect and could even make things worse. If we are to reduce sickness among teachers then we need absence managed, not absence management.

Our research shows that absence management is perceived as punitive. The centralisation of human resources makes this more likely if line managers'

discretion is eroded and a formulaic approach is taken. If we are going to get tough on absence then we need to get tough on the causes of absence, which can be complex.

With help from the Scottish Executive, TSS is running pilot programmes in Fife and Renfrewshire designed to address individual and organisational well-being. It is also campaigning for a comprehensive support service for teachers, which recognises the unique pressures they face.


Mike Finlayson is chief executive of Teacher Support Scotland

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