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Colleagues stress us out, say staff

And malicious allegations which are made public add to teachers' anxieties. Dorothy Lepkowska, Neal Smith and William Stewart report

Almost eight out of 10 callers to a teacher helpline are about work-related problems, with one in four citing colleagues and managers as the cause, a survey has revealed.

The study, by the Teacher Support Line, found teaching to be more stressful than any other public-sector job, including those in the health service.

Figures from the TSL show that 78 per cent of callers wanted advice about work-related problems, up from 65 per cent three years ago. In comparable occupations, about 20 per cent of callers were concerned about work.

The support line, which offers free advice for all teachers in England, received more than 28,000 calls between September 2002 and August 2003. Its online services experienced a 60 per cent increase on the previous year.

Of those who had problems at work, 23 per cent said these were caused by their colleagues or managers. Stress, anxiety and depression accounted for 22 per cent of all such calls.

Among those suffering work-related problems, 16 per cent cited employment issues, 13 per cent pay and conditions, and 9 per cent disruptive pupils.

Job dissatisfaction was an issue for 8 per cent, 7 per cent struggled with workload and 1 per cent had management problems. A further 1 per cent were worried about changes within schools. A support line spokesman said: "Many callers report the cumulative effects of the demands they feel are being made upon them. In these circumstances, it is vital they have access to the support they need, both in school and out."

A new trend of teachers suffering stress because they are the subject of malicious allegations is also emerging, the report suggests. The helpline received more than 100 calls on this issue, even though it was not previously listed as a concern.

Patrick Nash, TSL chief executive, said: "Teachers are frustrated by the lack of anonymity afforded to them and feel 'guilty until proven innocent'.

"Such allegations have a devastating effect on a teacher's life, family and career."

The figures were released as the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers was preparing to step up its campaign for anonymity for teachers facing malicious allegations.

It says fewer than 3 per cent of allegations of sexual, physical and verbal abuse made against teachers result in convictions. Among the case studies it highlights are a 47-year-old Cardiff primary teacher, with 17 years' service, charged with actual bodily harm and common assault, after spilling fruit juice on a 10-year-old pupil's head while trying to remove him from a potentially dangerous situation.

She had to wait two months for a court hearing during which time the prosecution dropped the case. But she was named in the media and suffered anxiety and depression because of the intense interest that followed.

Today the NASUWT begins a postcard petition that will be presented to the Department for Education and Skills and the Home Office in the New Year, calling for legislation that ensures accused teachers are not named unless convicted.

Teacher Support Line can be contacted on 0800 0562561, or see the website at:


Katharine had to take six months off sick due to a gradual build-up of stress brought on by a school inspection.

"The night before going into hospital for an operation I was even doing marking and prep work.

"I was so worried about the inspection I could not sleep," said Katharine, who is in her late 40s.

After the operation she went back to work, but soon developed tonsillitis and then chronic fatigue syndrome.

"When I ended up bedridden (and still marking), the only phone calls I got from the school were ones asking when I would be back to work. It was demoralising."

She has returned to the school this year but remains angry that little has changed.

She believes a system of mentoring, similar to the one already available for students, should be set up nationally.

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