Concern as stress and depression set in early

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
Alarming levels of teacher stress and related illnesses are emerging in schools less than a month into the new academic year.

The teaching unions believe that the summer break was ruined for hundreds of teachers because they could not face the prospect of a new term stretching ahead of them.

Teachers' leaders claim they are already inundated with calls for help from anxious staff. Common complaints include stress, depression, sleeplessness and a breakdown in relationships.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers in Birmingham, said the union had been receiving calls during the summer holiday from teachers who could not bear to return.

"On one morning alone we had two teachers at the point of complete breakdown and this is less than a month into the term," she said.

"One teacher rang and said she could not contemplate going back and needed to talk to someone. In addition, we have received notification of two long-term cases of sickness, brought on by depression, stress and workload."

Ms Keates said the problem would be aggravated in the weeks to come by the inspection of Birmingham education authority by the Office for Standards in Education. Teachers were already expressing fears about random or sample inspections of schools as part of the process. "I think teachers feel that after 18 years of being abused by the Tories they are no better off with a new government, even though they expected to be," she added.

"Although the LEA-led inspections will have a different emphasis, teachers are aware that inspectors still have to report difficulties."

Martin Fisher, the National Union of Teachers' northern regional secretary, said the union was handling a case where a teacher was being placed under pressure by a head, resulting in the deterioration of their professional relationship.

He said: "This teacher, who had been off before with depression and stress-related illness, had been back in school for just a week before the problems started again.

"We are dealing not only with new cases but with casework carried over from last year and the year before. Stress problems within the profession are just getting worse."

Brian Carter, the NUT's Midlands regional secretary, said teachers used the summer break to deal with problems in different ways.

"Some try to sort things out and work through their problems so they return to school refreshed and ready to go. Others experience a relief in being out of the classroom, rush off on holiday and forget about everything, then get depressed a week before term starts again.

"We are looking at ways of helping schools to examine their working environment to see how stress can be regulated and controlled. Often it can just be a case of sorting out staffing structures and spreading out any additional workload."

A telephone hotline operated by Hambro Assistance on behalf of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers has also been busy. Alex Wise, a Hambro spokesman, said the number of calls had been steadily rising since early September.

"We would expect to see an upward trend now that the holidays are over and teachers are back to work and reality sets in," he said. "The biggest concerns in the first few weeks of the term have been workload, coping with new timetables and classroom discipline."

Dorothy Lepkowska

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