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Heart attack triggers county-wide health initiative

A teacher who suffered a massive heart attack after working 18-hour days has won her campaign to have her colleagues regularly tested for cancer tests and given help in overcoming stress.

Kathy Wallis, who teaches Bodmin College in Cornwall, had the cardiac arrest last year after working long hours seven days a week as a special educational needs co-ordinator (Senco) in a secondary school.

Following her recovery, Ms Wallis, who is also the negotiating secretary for teaching union NASUWT, decided that something had to be done about how teachers managed stress.

She started lobbying for schools and health officials in the area to work together to improve her colleagues' fitness. While carrying out a health and safety audit at another local school, Helston Community College, she met head Pat McGovern, who became interested in her campaign.

Dr McGovern, who is also a governor at Helston Community Hospital, agreed and between them devised the idea of a "health day" at Bodmin College.

The school has a nurses' room on site where teachers and other staff receive advice on how to recognise the symptoms of breast, testicular and prostate cancers. Their blood pressure and cholesterol is monitored during the full check-up. Staff would also be given help improving their work-life balance and general well-being.

Now, following the success of the scheme, other headteachers in the county are hoping to hold similar events. They also believe that a focus on teacher health will help schools meet new Ofsted requirements.

"I was working 18 hours a day seven days a week as a Senco in a large school as well as being county NASUWT negotiating secretary. Plus I was trying to deal with serious stress outside school. Consequently, I ended up in hospital, not on holiday," Ms Wallis said.

"It took this to strike home the message to me. I don't want others to go through the same thing."

The new Ofsted self-evaluation form asks heads to confirm if the school is compliant with pay and conditions legislation. Ms Wallis says encouraging health checks on teachers will earn schools Ofsted "brownie points" and expects her idea to become popular.

She has praised "forward thinking" Dr McGovern for supporting her campaign.

"The work at Helston has been very proactive. A compliance audit of staff showed they wanted help developing a work-life balance. We had thought of holding an event after school, but because Dr McGovern was so supportive it's now a whole day," Ms Wallis said.

"He has also promised commitment to the health of his staff generally, this event will not be a one off. This will be ongoing work and I'm in exploratory talks with other heads in Cornwall about running health days for their staff.

"My own heart attack shows how so much is at stake when it comes to teacher health. I want to stop others from having the wake-up call I had last summer."

Ms Wallis, who has reduced her teaching hours with the agreement of her headteacher at Bodmin College, will report back to the Cornwall workforce monitoring group on the health day.

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