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The loneliness of the headteacher

Your commentary, "When headteachers disappear into the night" (TES, February 4) was very thought-provoking. It is tragic when heads take time off for stress-related illness. We all know the reasons: tests, league tables, initiative overload and workforce reform - but what are we and the powers-that-be doing about it?

In Durham we are working with the local education authority to find a way to support colleagues. However, this is fraught with difficulties.

Approaching absent heads is not simple because it is often difficult for them to face up to the fact that there is a stress-related problem.

Also, who should approach colleagues? If the LEA uses inspectors to do this, it merely adds to the stress. If other heads make the approach this could be misconstrued as implied criticism. Possibly we need independent counsellors, but would a stressed colleague approach them?

We should also be considerate towards colleagues returning after an absence. They should be treated with sympathy and given support.

Unfortunately the system does not permit this: as soon as a head is back in the saddle, shehe is confronted with the standards agenda and development plan. Visits from LEA link inspectors, however sympathetic, still concentrate on such agendas and thus pile on more stress.

It is a great shame that so many heads retire both prematurely and unsung.

However, until the education system is radically changed to be less draconian, judgemental, frenetic and overloaded with constant initiatives, and until support mechanisms are put in place, I cannot see things changing.

John Redman Headteacher, Cockton Hill infants' school Bishop Auckland, Durham.

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