Stress alert for ministers

8th April 2005 at 01:00
There is "a compelling case" for the introduction of a service to support teacher well-being in Scotland, similar to that provided in England and Wales.

This is the conclusion of a submission to the Scottish Executive and the local authorities by Teacher Support Scotland, the agency set up to campaign for action on the issue.

Mike Finlayson, chief executive of TSS, which commissioned research on the issue with NHS Scotland (TESS, September 10), argues that the key precept is that "employee well-being equals effectiveness and the two are inextricably linked". Mr Finlayson called for "a grown-up debate".

The organisation goes so far as to claim that the Executive's education policies may be at risk. The title of its submission - Creating the Conditions for Ambitious, Excellent Schools - deliberately incorporates that of the Executive's key policy document.

Researchers from the Healthy Working Lives Group at Glasgow University state that "support for teachers in relation to their well-being is inadequate and, even where provided, is rarely used, either because they do not know about it or do not trust its confidentiality. The perceived link between 'support' and absence management policies is counter-productive."

They found that half of teachers believe their job is very or extremely stressful and nine out of 10 say the situation has become worse.

A forthcoming study by Ewan Macdonald of the Healthy Working Lives Group will highlight one of the consequences: of the 350 teachers who on average retire each year on health grounds, 37 per cent cite mental disorders and depression. This is more prevalent among men (47 per cent) than women (31 per cent).

Despite these findings, there is little sign of swift action. The Executive is treading warily and appears content to let local authorities take the lead. In a recent parliamentary answer, Peter Peacock, Education Minister, said the Executive was backing pilot projects in Edinburgh, Fife and Renfrewshire aimed at drawing up a strategy for improving well-being.

Mr Peacock stated: "Local authorities, as teachers' employers, have responsibilities in these areas. Being aware of the local circumstances in which their teachers work, local authorities are best placed to identify and provide the support required."

But Ewan Aitken, education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, who discussed the issues with Teacher Support Scotland last week, would say only that it was a "helpful" meeting, and that the information provided would make a valuable contribution to the review of the national teachers' agreement next year.

Mr Aitken said: "One of the issues is how teachers access the support they require and whether this has to do with management. We also have to consider whether the changes in management structures in schools are having a negative impact on teachers."

The research study found that only 10 per cent of teachers had occupational health support provided by their employer - compared to 90 per cent of health service staff.

Mr Finlayson said: "The compartmentalisation of health, management and welfare is a barrier to addressing the problem. Employers cannot ignore this."

One of the key issues, the TSS submission states, is relationships between teachers, managers and other colleagues, which is where many of the pressures occur. The research shows "a dearth of intervention" in Scotland to prevent problems building up.

Mr Finlayson believes cash from continuing professional development budgets might be diverted to help schools develop more "person-centred management".

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