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Help at the end of the line

As the levels of stress continue to rise in staffrooms and classrooms across the country, the

Government has launched a telephone counselling service. Bibi Berki and Steve Hook report TEACHERS are to get a Government-backed confidential counselling service to cope with rising complaints of stress.

It is hoped that Teacherline, launched this week by schools minister Estelle Morris, will save pound;18 million by reducing teacher sickness and absenteeism.

The helpline began taking calls as it emerged that three separate complaints of staffroom bullying have been lodged at the same school in the Midlands - which cannot be named for legal reasons. The first is due to be heard by an employment tribunal next spring.

Stress resulting from friction between colleagues is just one of a number of areas which will be tackled by the freephone counselling, support and advice service, which is expected to be used by 15,000 teachers in its first year. Teachers and lecturers currently make a fifth of calls to the National Bullying Advice Line, with headteachers often named as the culprits.

Dedicated counselling services have long been available to other professions such as doctors, nurses and many in the private sector.

Staffed by professional counsellors, many of them ex-teachers, Teacherline is run by TBF: the Teacher Support Network (formerly known as the Teacher's Benevolent Fund) and part-funded by the Department for Education and Employment.

The network says it based the pound;18m saving on an existing help-line in East Lothian which resulted in a 62 per cent reduction in absenteeism and two pilot projects in Camden and Buckinghamshire which had a 3 per cent teacher take-up.

Team leader Tom Lewis said teachers had experienced a barrage of professional changes over the past 10 years, from the national curriculum to numeracy and literacy hours. "Teachers do not exist in a vacuum. They have a home life and family life.

"Pressures at school can interact with their professional life," said Mr Lewis, who trained as a counsellor after years of listening to and dealing with staff problems while deputy head at Frederick Bird primary school in Coventry.

"One of the concerns teachers may raise is bullying. Counselling would be useful in helping them to develop strategies for how to deal with bullying."

Teacherline's organisers emphasise that the service is not only meant as a last resort, but should be used to discuss all manner of anxieties before they become major problems.

Doug McAvoy, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said teachers worked in isolated circumstances, especially in the classroom. "They sometimes think that to discuss problems is a sign of weakness," he said.

As well as the stresses of the classroom, teachers have to cope with league tables, inspections, increasing paperwork, greater demands from parents and the growing incidence of aggressive behaviour by parents, he said.

Teacherline number is 08000 562 561

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