The high price of stress

5th January 2001 at 00:00
Schools that let stressed teachers return to work risk having to pay out huge amounts in damages, warns Chris Lowe

Teacher stress is hardly ever out of the news. One teacher tragically commits suicide; another leaves to go and work on the buses; a group of heads is taken away to the seaside by their chief education officer.

Actually the last may not have happened but may not be a bad idea: employers have a duty of care for their employees, which includes providing the resources to reduce the likelihood of a nervous breakdown.

Governing bodies, the employers of teachers in maintained as well as independent schools, have to balance this duty with their prime duty to educate pupils. The payout of pound;250,000 to Janice Howell - a special needs teacher who returned to work after a breakdown only to be given the same workload - should be a warning to them.

Governors must be certai that the teacher is fit for his or her duties before being allowed back. The teacher's doctor or the occupational health service may suggest that a teacher can return if a lighter workload is provided. But while it may be possible to reduce the time a teacher is in school, it is not as easy to keep the pressure down.

If a head and governing body can foresee that a teacher might be exposed to more stress when heshe returns to school, and does not take reasonable and effective measures to combat it, they may be open to a claim for damages. If the teacher is then dismissed on the grounds of ill health, they may be entitled to claim for unfair dismissal. Heads and governors should be careful before letting a partially fit colleague return. It is not only in the school's interests, it is in the teacher's too.

Chris Lowe is legal consultant to the Secondary Heads Association


Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now