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Head of year wins pound;47,000 for stress

A former head of year who claimed to have been effectively forced to work a six-day week has won pound;47,000 compensation in what is believed to be the first case of a teacher successfully claiming for stress at work.

Muriel Benson, 60, who retired through ill health eight years after first complaining about her 66-hour weekly workload, was celebrating today after her employer, Wirral Metropolitan Borough, settled out of court with her union, the National Union of Teachers.

Mrs Benson, an English and media studies teacher at Prenton girls high, had claimed that the Wirral had put her at risk of injury through overwork.

She was not given enough non-contact time as head of year, forcing her to work extra hours at home. The authority then failed to act on her record of stress related sickness.

Mrs Benson retired through ill-health in December, 1996. She had been complaining of overwork since 1988. Her hours were 8.15am-6pm at school three days a week, and 8.15-5.10pm on the other two. She then spent two to three hours a night at home on preparation and one day of each weekend on schoolwork.

From 1994, her anxiety was so severe that she had palpitations and other physical symptoms.

Mrs Benson claimed the authority took no steps to monitor her workload after she was forced to take two weeks' sick leave in 1995, despite being diagnosed by her GP as suffering from acute stress. Instead, she said, she was told later in the year that she would have to take on an extra examination class.

After being signed off again by her doctor with stress in January 1996, she never returned to work.

Mr McAvoy said: "The outcome of this case confirms that teacher stress is an occupational health problem for employers which they must take seriously."

A spokeswoman for the Wirral said: "In view of the fact that the case was settled out of court with no admission of liability by the authority, we have nothing further to add."

The Government's pound;750,000 stress helpline for teachers, run by the former Teachers' Benevolent Fund, was set up last month on 08000 562561.

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