From the archive - Weed out the mad and misfits, doctor warns

12th November 2010 at 00:00
28 July 1978: A school medical officer was shocked by how easy it was for the 'mentally ill' to enter teaching

The ease with which mentally ill teachers can obtain posts was described last week by a former school medical officer. Vicious beaters, schizophrenics, erratic and eccentric men and women can perform well at interviews and land a job before their illness is discovered, he claimed. And, because of the way the system works, they can move easily from one job to another in different parts of the country.

Dr H MacAnespie called for more rigorous screening of job applicants. At the moment, medical exams are carried out at teacher training colleges. "No medical examination, apart from a chest X-ray film, is carried out by the employing authority before a teacher takes his or her post," he said. "Yet some teachers who break down give a history of psychiatric episodes during student days.

"Some teachers are basically unsuitable for the job, with possibly inadequate or vulnerable personalities, who have drifted into teaching without proper motivation; these also may be at risk of breakdown."

A teacher with chronic disorders applying for a job could negotiate an interview successfully and start to teach before their personal difficulties came to light, he said in an article in the British Medical Journal.

"This danger could be obviated if the interviews were more searching, if references were always asked for and taken up, or if each authority provided screening medical examination or an advisory service."

Dr MacAnespie said some teachers had worked for years while suffering from manifest psychotic or psycho-neurotic illness.

"Thus pupils may be exposed to the prolonged influence of a teacher with one or more serious psychiatric disturbances, such as thought disorder, paranoia, hallucinations, aggressiveness, failure to relate to colleagues and extreme unreliability; who may be unable to control the class and use vicious physical punishment."

From 1967 to 1973, 36 teachers were referred to him. Some had chronic illnesses, a few were acute conditions of limited duration and 21 seemed to have no insight into their condition.

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