Heads urged to cut stress levels

25th September 1998 at 01:00
ONE IN three teachers who report high stress levels could have their anxieties eased by headteachers' management styles. Leadership and the culture set by the head are key factors in schools with low anxiety levels, a senior educational psychologist says.

Dr John Proctor, head of Aberdeen's psychological services, told primary heads from neighouring Aberdeenshire that stress levels among teachers were higher than those for police officers or nurses.

His survey of 300 teachers in the north-east, carried out in 1993 but reinforced by more recent studies, showed levels of anxiety were far higher than expected. "It is a very stressful profession," Dr Proctor said.

Schools with low anxiety levels had clear aims that staff subscribed to. Stress levels did not appear to differ significantly because of age, gender or length of experience. "School climate was the biggest factor," he said.

Heads who saw their job as supporting staff and getting the best out of them had schools with fewer anxieties.

Dr Proctor said the study underlined how influential heads were and how onerous the job was. "There are management skills and cultures to get the best out of folk," he suggested.

Ron Elder, vice-principal of Northern College, said that while change was most often effectively achieved by an authoritarian manager, in the long-term heads had to win the hearts, minds and commitment of staff and parents.

"Effective management in a school is best built on a team with ownership rather than the industrial model of a sweeping individual change agent," Professor Elder said.

Appointments had to take account of leadership style and the school environment. "When did you last see an advert for 'insensitive eejit wanted as authoritarian headteacher for large primary school with bolshie staff in challenging area - must have strong heart and drive a tank'?" he asked.

Effective heads had to be aware of their own management style, construct a balanced senior management team, lead the staff to understand and own shared aims, and produce policies that led to action. "Leadership means encourage, support, confront, comfort, cajole and insist according to the individual and the situation."

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