Staff get appraisal 'sick' note

The timetables for teacher appraisal and development planning are to be relaxed in Borders schools from next session to ease the burden on staff. A survey revealed almost all teachers were finding it hard to cope.

Scottish Borders Council is also planning courses on counselling skills for key staff and a review of management styles at all levels.

A pilot study carried out for a council working group on teacher stress found that 94 per cent of 90 teachers in one secondary school and its associated primaries were affected by stress.

The main causes given were workload (92 per cent), the pace of change in education (84 per cent), paperwork (84 per cent), bureaucracy (74 per cent) and the need to develop new skills (61 per cent).

John Christie, director of education in the Borders, said the findings should be treated with caution. "Stress may simply be the term used to cover a host of different issues and some people are able to manage stress better than others. Having said that, there is a message in this study for us which we, as an authority, would be very foolish to ignore."

The council intends to run stress management courses for key staff, such as advisers, headteachers and principal teachers, who are likely to be involved in counselling teachers who find it difficult to cope.

Another survey, to identify pressure points caused by excessive workload, found that school development planning and appraisal were causing headaches and eating into teaching time. The result is that development plans will no longer have to be prepared every year but on a two-year cycle. "Schools can spend more time actually implementing their plans as opposed to drawing them up," Mr Christie commented.

Borders has also decided that no member of staff will have to conduct more than one appraisal a term. This will extend the process at a time when Scottish Office ministers are keeping a critical watch on what they regard as unacceptable progress. Legislation to force the pace has not been ruled out.

Mr Christie called on the Scottish Office to acknowledge that "quality appraisal is more important than its frequency and a preoccupation with the quantity. I hope the Government will take that into account in any decisions it may reach about appraisal."

The Scottish Office has just finished a survey on the state of appraisal in all 32 education authorities.

Management styles will be reviewed in training sessions for senior managers and those seeking promotion. "A lot of stress can be induced as much by inappropriate management as by bureaucracy," Mr Christie concedes.

The National Audit Office reported in February that the rapid rise in teachers taking early retirement, particularly through ill health, was imposing mounting "financial strains" on the teachers' pension scheme in Scotland. The number of early retirements, seen as a benchmark of stress and disillusionment among teachers, rose by 48 per cent in the 10 years to 1995, from 1,056 to 1, 564. Retirements on medical grounds increased by three-quarters, from 237 to 416.

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