Stress needs more study

It's ironic that a report on stress should come out in the middle of July when it's the last thing on teachers' minds, unless it's the mislaid passports, squawking kids and crowded airports that are getting to them. But the lessons from this review by the Scottish Council for Research in Education (page three) must not be lost in the lull of the summer holidays.

The message is loud and clear. Teachers believe they are suffering from increasing stress but there is little research to back them up. Figures for absence and early retirals - key indicators of stress - are inadequately recorded. Education authorities and schools must do more to document their causes. In a trawl of 897 reports on teachers' stress, only 14 were Scottish, and most of them were small-case studies by postgraduate students of education. Only four were major investigations, two reviews by SCRE in the Eighties and Nineties and two surveys of workload, the last in 2000. Even its findings are fast going out of date.

Increased workload and disruptive pupils are clearly wearing down teachers. Workload featured prominently in the McCrone report on teachers' pay and conditions, and part of the subsequent national agreement is a commitment by the Scottish Executive to provide additional clerical support. But as fast as the ministers strive to ease the teachers' burden, new pressures emerge - fears about job-sizing, greater requirements on teachers and heads to undertake more professional development, greater discipline problems as social inclusion policies start to bite. And the problem of excessive assessment for Higher Still has yet to be resolved.

The stress won't go away. But teachers would benefit from reading in this report how others tackle it - from love-making to writing poetry.

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