Push the button for support

29th April 2005 at 01:00
The submission referred to by Peter Wright in his Viewpoint article last week was the product of nearly three years work by our board and advisory forum (of which Mr Wright's union, the Scottish School Teacher's Association, is an active member). The forum, which includes people and organisations with an interest in education and health, wrote the brief which led to the research used in the submission.

The submission did not consist of just the research carried out by the Healthy Working Lives Group, it incorporated evidence and informed opinion from clinicians, specialists and practitioners, including the head of occupational health at Marks and Spencer and the Health and Safety Executive.

This evidence was used to present a cogent argument to the Executive which suggested that, unless the well-being of the Scottish teaching force was improved, the Executive's aim to create "ambitious excellent schools" would be compromised.

While the situation Mr Wright describes is (as the evidence shows) too often the case, I am sure he would agree with me that "stressed-out teachers" are no longer news and attract little understanding or sympathy.

The button to push with the Executive is the effectiveness one and, in fairness to them, they appear to recognise this and have responded by supporting our work to develop a strategic approach and to trial some imaginative ideas.

The button to push with employers is their duty of care. Support is either inadequate or is not being used, and there appears to be a worrying lack of trust. A helpline, similar to that provided in England and Wales, would go a long way to addressing these two issues. No doubt the unions will take up the cudgels as they see fit. The unions have an important role and responsibility too. The research showed that teachers expected their union to take an interest in their well-being and to provide support as well.

One of the challenges in all of this is the diverse nature of the problem.

Is it health? Is it compliance? Is it effectiveness? Is it about management and leadership at local level? The answer is yes to all of these, and they are interdependent. Accordingly, it requires a holistic response and joined-up thinking.

It is vital that other agencies such as the health-promoting schools initiative, the Healthy Working Lives Group and the Health and Safety Executive are aware of our submission and engaged. But we should be wary of yet more policy. The research exposed the difference between policy and reality for too many teachers.

We need action - and very soon, for everyone's sake not just for teachers.A copy of the submission and the research commissioned in partnership with NHS Health Scotland is available on our website at www.teachersupport.info Mike Finlayson

Chief executive

Teacher Support Scotland

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