Stress strikes one in two

10th September 2004 at 01:00
Almost half of teachers find their jobs stressful, with a "resounding" nine out of 10 believing the problem has become worse. But only seven of Scotland's 32 education authorities report having a dedicated welfare officer - one for every 7,000 teachers.

These are among the significant findings from research carried out for Teacher Support Scotland by the healthy working lives unit at Glasgow University, unveiled at a conference in Stirling yesterday (Thursday).

The researchers, Ewan Macdonald and Claire Dunlop, believe there is a clear case for more back-up, but say there is a lack of access to support. Only 1.8 per cent of 500 teachers questioned had any contact with two of the most common services, occupational health and counselling. Yet just under 12 per cent said they suffered from mental or behavioural problems.

One disturbing finding is that even those who retired on health grounds had had few dealings with occupational health - only 11 per cent had used the service.

The research concludes that teachers lack trust in what is on offer.

Councils do not generally run services specifically for teachers and there is sometimes seen to be a conflict between support for teachers and the management of sickness absence.

One focus group involving special needs teachers produced the comment: "The perception of local authority support is not helped by the sickness absence monitoring systems . . . Headteachers need to conduct back-to-work interviews every time that staff are off (which) leaves us with the impression that we are not trusted to be honest about why we are off work."

Dr Dunlop told the conference: "All 32 (authorities) report that they provide some form of occupational health service and counselling service to employees. But there are large variations in what is provided, how it is provided and teachers' access to services."

Only three councils offer additional services such as physiotherapy and stress management courses. Aberdeenshire Council confirmed in last week's TES Scotland that it plans to extend a pilot stress initiative in two Fraserburgh schools to all council employees.

Not all authorities proved so positive - seven of the 29 who responded to the research were able to offer data on teacher uptake of services, but 16 declined to make the information available.

The research report commented: "Questions have to be raised about the adequacy and equity of the support provided. Interventions need to be focused upon prevention rather than simply cure. All teachers in Scotland should have equal access to a comprehensive, open-access occupational health and safety service."

Mike Finlayson, chief executive of Teacher Support Scotland, said Scotland could learn lessons from England where almost a quarter of education departments have employee well-being programmes.

Mr Finlayson added: "Evaluation of support services shows they have a positive effect on health, morale, recruitment and retention, conflict resolution, sickness and absenteeism. Employers, unions and teachers are recognising that fair pay and reducing working hours do not in themselves lead to effective teaching.

"We shall be arguing strongly for a similar service to that offered to 500,000 teachers in England and Wales to be provided for teachers in Scotland."

Dr Dunlop said the evaluation of a ground-breaking well-being programme for school employees piloted in Norfolk found that 89 per cent of heads thought the overall culture of the school had improved since joining the project and 88 per cent rated staff performance as better.

Courses run in the Norfolk schools included strategies for managing pressure, collaborative problem-solving, effective communication and self-management.

Teacher Support Scotland aims to have Fife, Renfrewshire and Edinburgh councils on board to run a similar pilot scheme, backed by the Scottish Executive.

The main stress factors in the TSS study were found to be excessive workload (25 per cent), pupil indiscipline (20 per cent) and poor relationships with colleagues or parents (14 per cent).

The general conclusion is that more needs to be done, but also that more could be done to publicise what is already available.

Leader 26

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