Suspect policies on stress

10th September 2004 at 01:00
tress, as we know, is a complex subject (page one). The question is whether teaching is uniquely prone to it. There may be some self-fulfilling prophecies here: note that the example given in the Chambers 21st century dictionary of the "pressure of adverse influences, circumstances" is the stress of teaching, as if it has become the definitive description.

On the other hand, police and social workers, facing severe shortages which exacerbate these pressures, can lay as much of a claim to stressful working conditions as teachers. Local authority surveys have also shown that teachers generally are at the lower end of absenteeism rates among council employees - perhaps, they would argue, because they cope until they drop.

But what most professions have in common, of course, is a high degree of public scrutiny, a factor that cannot be discounted.

However, comparisons between professions to establish a league table of stress and misery are beside the point. Today's workplaces are generally more stressful and teachers, under scrutiny not just from the public at large but also from those who sit in front of them hour after hour, are certainly in the upper range. The point is that the duty of care by good employers to their staff should ensure that this issue is taken seriously - for solid productivity reasons, never mind welfare ones. For once, everyone's self-interest should combine.

The findings from the Teacher Support Scotland survey, however, show this self-evident common sense has yet to penetrate. It reveals alarming discrepancies and inequities across the country; not only that, staff feel their distress is regarded as suspect and subject to "absence monitoring".

It is odd that, when authorities are busy urging schools to emulate best practice, this is one area where they seem to have singularly failed to practice what they preach.

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