Record payout for school stress

12th May 2000 at 01:00
Former teacher is awarded pound;300,000 for ill-health brought on by a 'divide and rule' head, reports Karen Thornton.

A TEACHER left a "wreck" after the arrival of a new headteacher has been awarded a record-breaking pound;300,000 for stress-induced illness.

The award - the biggest ever stress-related pay-out - was settled out of court by the school's insurers.

The 45-year-old teacher, who specialised in working with children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, was forced to take early retirement, and has been on medication for three years.

He says his problems began in January 1995, when a new headteacher promoted "divide and rule" management, and inconsistent disciplinary policies.

"As time went on, I often did not know whether I had just arrived at work or was about to go home. I was completely disorientated," said the father-of-two, identified only as Mr A by the National Union of Teachers, which backed his case.

With his health deteriorating, he took his concerns to the local education authority, Shropshire County Council, and broke down in tears as he described demoralised staff being bullied by the head and children running out of control.

But no action was taken, and school discipline deteriorated further. After being pushed down the stairs by a pupil, he was diagnosed as suffering a complete nervous breakdown.

"I found the way the school was managed day-to-day, the lack of a structure to maintain discipline and enable good teaching practice was very stressful. Ill-health became rife with numerous absences as a result of the bad working conditions. P> "I repeatedly warned the headteacher that the school environment was too stressful because of the increasingly violent atmosphere - an atmosphere which had got out of control as a result of her management style.

"Professionally, I was always stepping in between her and the children because she was at risk," said Mr A.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the NUT, said the case demonstrated "an appalling lack of care and concern by both school governors and Shropshire County Council".

He added: "This teacher has suffered dreadful stress which could have been dealt with if the authority had intervened as soon as it was aware of the problems. Instead, a caring, committed teacher is now too ill to continue his chosen career.

"His employers failed to protect him and he continues to suffer. For too many teachers round the country this lack of care is an increasing part of daily lives."

The union is currently pursuing 150 other stress cases, with 10 currently in detailed negotiation with a view to reaching out-of-court settlements.

But Liz Nicholson, Shropshire's education director, said all staff had access to a confidential counselling service, and that other support was available from the education authority.

"The council was aware of difficulties in the management of the school and steps were taken to address these. We worked closely with the management of the school and provided considerable support over a period of time," she said.

"We very much regret the psychiatric problems experienced by Mr A during a difficult time in the school's history."

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