Charity pulls plug on support network in bid to save cash

3rd December 2010 at 00:00

The cause of improving the well-being of Scottish teachers has been dealt a blow, with the announcement that Teacher Support Scotland is to fold.

The charity (slogan: "We're here for you"), which was dedicated to providing emotional support to education staff and enhancing their effectiveness, has been told by its national body, the Teacher Support Network, that it is no longer prepared to continue subsidising it. The UK network has provided about half a million pounds to the Scottish operation since its inception nine years ago, but has been looking to make savings.

Ivor Sutherland, who has chaired TSS from the beginning, said he was "bitterly disappointed" at the decision, a sentiment echoed by Ken Wimbor, assistant secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, who has also been on the board from the start.

Dr Sutherland blamed the lack of usage of the TSS helpline and online support for its inability to secure funds to keep it going, suggesting that the Scottish "macho" tendency could be one of the reasons why teachers are reluctant to seek counselling help in case it is regarded as weakness.

But he paid tribute to the national network for its "extremely generous" backing of the Scottish service. He said its decision was not entirely unexpected, since it had given notice three years ago that Scotland would have to wash its face financially by the end of this year.

Vikki Macdonald, who has only been in post as development manager for a year, was seen as highly effective - "worked her socks off", as one colleague put it - but that was not enough time for her to raise sufficient funds.

Julian Stanley, chief executive of TSN, said the decision was taken "with some regret."

He added: "We will seek to retain our Scottish charity registration for the time being, having taken advice from the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) and we will continue to offer web-based and telephone support to teachers and lecturers in Scotland.

"The pity is that we could not reach sufficient numbers of teachers and lecturers to attract sufficient financial support in Scotland, to maintain and operate an office, employ staff and develop our services in the same way that we have been able to achieve in England and Wales."

Mr Wimbor regretted the timing of the decision. He revealed that the EIS was "close" to reaching a service level agreement with TSS, under which the latter would have provided helpline and online support for EIS members. "Now we've had the rug pulled from under us," he said.

TSS saw its role as coming to the aid of stressed-out teachers, which would make them more effective in their jobs, raise classroom standards and cut down on absenteeism costs for councils.

Research at the beginning of the decade estimated that a full counselling service for Scottish teachers could reduce absenteeism among those taking advantage of it by as much as 50 per cent, reducing the salaries paid to absent staff by more than pound;1m.

But Dr Sutherland observed: "We have the conundrum in Scotland that teachers won't use the counselling services provided by local authorities because they are suspicious of them. Yet here was a service that was nothing to do with their employment and should have fulfilled a need but, for some reason, it didn't."

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