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Integration of special needs pupils exacts toll

Integrating pupils with special educational needs into mainstream schools may be a popular policy, but it has sent primary teachers' stress levels soaring.

New research by Roland Chaplain, of Homerton College in Cambridge, suggests that the struggle to cater for SEN children is now the biggest single source of stress for primary staff.

Previous studies have shown that pupils' behaviour and attitude problems have caused primary teachers most stress, but many of the 267 teachers that Chaplain questioned were preoccupied with providing pastoral and learning support for their SEN children. "Most primary schools still lack a system of pastoral support - unlike most secondary schools - and this is likely to contribute to the stress these teachers experienced," he writes in the latest issue of Educational Psychology.

Chaplain asked teachers to rate 18 potential stress factors, and found that controlling pupils' behaviour was the second most important stressor. Lack of professional support was also a serious worry. Nearly a quarter of the teachers (23 per cent) admitted that they were "very or extremely" stressed and little more than a third (37 per cent) were satisfied with teaching as a profession. "This may reflect a current perception of teaching, highlighting issues such as increased workload, reduced autonomy and lack of status," Chaplain says.

In general, women were more content than their male colleagues, particularly those aged 45 and over, who were least satisfied with teaching. Women of 36-45, however, had almost as many misgivings as their male contemporaries, and women of 45-plus were less satisfied than the men with school facilities and organisation.

Inadequate resources and poor working conditions attracted most complaints (the majority were happy with their own performance and the curriculum).

Only 27 per cent were satisfied with their teaching resources, but Chaplain notes that, perhaps surprisingly, opinions on this issue differed within some schools. One male teacher with four years' experience was in no doubt why this should be so: "She (the head) keeps all the goodies to herself and gives it to whoever is 'in' - I'm not one of them." This comment was not atypical. "Several teachers said they had particular difficulty coping with the behaviour of the head," Chaplain says. They complained of heads' idiosyncrasies and mood swings, and some accused them of failing to support colleagues in a time of crisis.

Just over a third (36 per cent) rated premises and decor as satisfactory, but one teacher who disagreed told Chaplain: "That 'telephone box' down the corridor is our staffroom."

* Educational Psychology is published by Carfax, PO Box 25, Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

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