Pressure drives heads to drink

14th July 2000 at 01:00
Broken marriages, alcoholism, bulimia, depression...Nicolas Barnard reports on a snapshot of leaders under strain.

HEADTEACHERS are suffering growing levels of stress and some are turning to alcohol for relief, a survey has found.

A snapshot of the state of health of members in Warwickshire by the National Association of Head Teachers found that 40 per cent of respondents had visited the doctor with stress-related problems in the past year, with 30 per cent taking medication.

Some blamed the pressures of work for the break-up of their marriages. And one head in five admitted to drinking too much, with 15 per cent of heads considering themselves to be alcoholics.

Two-thirds of respondents said their stress levels were quite high or very high, and just over a quarter were looking for less stressful work, including some who had already resigned.

The disturbing figures were revealed by NAHT general secretary David Hart to backbench MPs on the Commons Education Select Committee on Wednesday.

Warwickshire was chosen because it is considered to be a well-run authority - a good employer which has just been praised by the Office for Standards in Education. Mr Hart said: "This is a stark reflection of the Government's standards agenda and the way it is being driven through.

"I simply don't think that the Governmentunderstands that the pressure is now such that good people are leaving."

Half the 300 NAHT heads and deputies in the county, working in 250 schools, responded to the survey in May.

One in four reported serious health problems, ranging from high blood pressure and heart problems to chronic insomnia, severe depression, bulimia and stomach disorders. Some suffered from muscle spasms and eye strains, others from skin disorders.

And more than half said that family life was suffering as a result of the stresses of the job. Some reported their marriages had already broken up under the strain, while others complained they never saw their partners or children.

Some were working 70 hour weeks, often working until 11.30pm.

Last week The TES reported a dramatic rise in the number of vacant headships.

An analysis of job adverts placed in the paper showed an increase of 40 per cent in the first six months of the year.

Recent high-profile cases of heads quitting the profession include Kevin Short, the brother of government minister Clare Short. Mr Short, head of a Somerset primary, said he had been "weighed down" by pressure to raise standards. Last week Tim Gunn, a 51-year-old Durham primary head, quit teaching after 30 years to become a truck driver.

Gone fishing, a deputy's story, Friday magazine, 17.

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