Health and responsibility

28th October 2005 at 01:00
Brian Toner's comments ("Depressed and anxious", TES Scotland last week) beg the question: "Where does the responsibility for teachers' well-being lie?"

When we made our submission, "Creating the Conditions for Ambitious and Excellent Schools", to the Scottish Executive Education Department, it stated that had they had no responsibility for the well-being of teachers but did recognise the relationship between employee well-being and effectiveness. For this reason, they have actively supported the initiative in Fife and Renfrewshire to which Mr Toner refers.

SEED indicated to us that the duty of care lies squarely with the employer.

Copies of the submission were sent to all local authorities in Scotland, including chief executives, directors of education (or equivalent) and directors of personnel. Out of 32 authorities, only three replied.

A few months earlier, we had sent copies of our research into teachers'

well-being to local authorities, inviting them to talk to us about the findings: again, only three authorities responded. Our research was the most extensive of its kind ever conducted anywhere in the world. It was produced by the same unit which advises the Executive on "Scotland's Health at Work" and managed by NHS Health Scotland; the submission was based on this research.

Our submission was predicated on the proposition that the effectiveness of teachers depends on their well-being, in particular their emotional well-being. Some may argue, but the evidence is overwhelming: there is a significant problem with teachers' well-being in Scotland which must be addressed because it is damaging health, costing money and impairing effectiveness.

SEED has a strategic role in helping to create the conditions for effective education in Scotland, and to ensure that teaching attracts and retains the best people. Employers have a legal duty of care.

The unions have a responsibility for the welfare of their members and the conditions in which they work. Teachers themselves have a professional responsibility for their own health and well-being and to build resilience.

The pilot project in Fife and Renfrewshire is unique in that it embodies these roles and responsibilities. SEED is providing leadership; Fife and Renfrewshire are demonstrating commitment proactively; unions are engaged and supportive. Heads, teachers and non-teaching staff in participating schools are keen to be involved and take ownership for their own health, well-being and effectiveness.

This is the way it should be: collective responsibility for a complex problem, working in intelligent and informed partnership and avoiding the blame game.

The answer to the question therefore is that we all have responsibility for the well-being of teachers. We hope that everyone with an interest in the effectiveness of the Scottish teaching force will take an interest in this ground-breaking project and learn from it.

Mike Finlayson Chief executive Teacher Support Scotland

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