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Teachers welcome safety valve on stress

THE staff welfare service in West Dunbartonshire has received a massive vote of confidence from teachers. A report to the council's education committee this week highlighted a rise of 80 per cent in the number of self-referrals in the second year of the service - and 100 per cent satisfaction with the way problems were handled.

Nearly nine out of 10 - 87 per cent - said they would recommend the service to colleagues.

Between February 2000, when a staff welfare officer was appointed, and December 2000, there were 64 self-referrals. That number rose to 124 between January and November 2001 - up by 80 per cent. The total of 188 teachers represents almost a fifth of all permanent staff.

The number of referrals rose for all staff, from heads to class teachers, with the largest increase among unpromoted teachers, from 42 to 84. Take-up is higher in the primary sector, with referrals from 21 per cent of the workforce compared with 12 per cent of secondary teachers. Only 6 per cent of cases over the two-year period were men.

Margaret McKay, staff welfare officer, said that while about 70 per cent of the authority's teachers are female, that did not explain the "vast preponderance" of women using the service. "This may relate to the general perception that women are more comfortable than men about discussing their feelings and seeking help."

She reported 16 different "presenting complaints". These ranged from gender and sexuality issues to anxiety and panic, the latter generating the largest number of complaints by far with 65 teachers out of the 188. This was followed by unsupportive senior management (19), personalfamily problems (16) and workplace bullying (14).

Bob Cook, head of resource development, said that from the level of uptake and the high degree of satisfaction, it seems "reasonable to assume the staff welfare service is fulfilling a vital role in contributing towards the council's duty of care towards its teachers".

Mr Cook notes "the encouraging trend" of teachers using the service while continuing to turn up for work. But the figures pointed to "a profession under considerable stress". He added: "On the other hand, if the staff welfare service did not exist, the problems facing teachers would still be present but potentially go unrecognised. These problems might have come to light in a different and possibly more damaging way."

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