Mike Finlaysonis chief executive of Teacher Support Scotland
Teacher Support Scotland has introduced a new information, coaching and counselling service for teachers in Scotland from May, initially on a trial basis in Fife and Renfrewshire. If successful, it will be extended throughout Scotland in 2008.
Teacher Support Scotland Online has taken three years to develop, following extensive research in Scotland - and in England and Wales, where teachers have enjoyed similar support for the last six years. The service takes advantage of developments in technology and an increasing willingness by teachers to go online.
Our initiative is based on the premise that the health, well-being and resilience of teachers is of great importance to the profession as a whole, and to the overall learning experience of young people. Adequately supported teachers are less likely to be off sick with stress-related illness, which can in turn improve recruitment and retention within the profession.
As the service is provided by an independent charity, it is confidential and addresses the key concern teachers have when seeking help. We recognise the limitations of conventional telephone helplines, where some people are reluctant to pick up the phone. A click of a mouse is all that is required to access the service and the person using it can, if he or she wishes, remain anonymous. Teachers with G3 can access the service from their mobile phone.
For most teachers, receiving simple information or signposting to where they might get further information or advice will be all that is required from the service. Teachers experiencing serious difficulty, however, can receive one-to-one support from qualified counsellors over the phone if needed. Though it's an online service, users, coaches or counsellors can request voice contact too.
The online coaching facility is particularly valuable, allowing a teacher to work with a coach on any aspect of their well-being or personal development. The evidence points to the importance of personal development in helping increase resilience and motivation, and improve well-being in response to a tough job which is unlikely to get easier.
The free 247 help complements, rather than conflicts with, services provided by unions and employers. Experience south of the border shows that unions and employers find the utility a valuable resource, filling a gap between the employer's duty of care and the union's role in representing members.
There is every reason to believe that the trial will be a success. During 2006, teachers in England and Wales contacted the service a staggering 74,000 times, making it the largest and most used service of its kind in the world. On this basis, it could generate more than 7,000 contacts a year in Scotland. Our research and experience to date suggests that this is possible.
Ultimately, the service has to be paid for; already, nearly 1,000 serving and retired teachers help fund it through donations. More will be needed if it is to be made available to all teachers in Scotland.