Teachers top the league for stress levels

18th September 2009 at 01:00
But a new online resource promises to boost well-being by targeting the school environment

Teachers and other school staff are to be given more help to achieve "excellence in well-being at work".

A new online resource, designed to improve "organisational well-being" in Scottish schools, is being launched at the Scottish Learning Festival next week by Teacher Support Scotland and Fife Council. It recognises that the way a school is organised can have as much effect on employees' health as anything else, and it is therefore aimed particularly at managers.

Funded by the Scottish Government, StaffWise was created following a two- year pilot project in Fife and Renfrewshire involving more than 1,000 teachers and support staff from 18 schools and nursery centres.

That project, called "Creating the Conditions", attempted to raise the profile of well-being among the staff, providing them with a framework for developing practices to increase staff morale and improve organisational effectiveness.

The catalyst for it was a report for TSS in 2005 by Claire Dunlop and Ewan Macdonald, from the Healthy Working Lives Group at Glasgow University. It revealed that 44 per cent of teachers believed their job was "very" or "extremely" stressful. Its findings were reinforced last week when a fresh study from the Society of Occupational Medicine showed that secondary teachers in Scotland suffer from significantly higher rates of stress and psychological illness than others of working age.

The study, of over 500 secondary school teachers, found that almost half had experienced "psychological distress" in the past 12 months. Male teachers are particularly affected, with 28 per cent succumbing to stress, which is twice the rate for men in the working population.

TSS provides support to individual teachers but argues that, in order to improve well-being, a "whole school" policy is required.

"By taking part in StaffWise, Scottish schools and centres can improve staff well-being, reduce sickness absence, increase retention and ultimately improve the education of Scottish children and young people," said a spokesman for TSS.

Using the pilot project results as the basis for the guide, TSS and Fife Council worked with North Lanarkshire Council to gather additional ideas and material that would support well-being at work. They collected and compiled tools, tips and templates, combining these with the ideas and suggestions offered by staff.

StaffWise, says TSS, brings together "good practice, common sense and creative ideas" about staff well-being. It is described as "a structured resource which leaders, managers, local authorities and individuals across Scotland can use to measure, manage and maximise well-being and effectiveness in educational settings".

Julian Stanley, TSS chief executive, said: "By improving well-being, Staff-Wise will play a vital role in improving education as well as making school communities across Scotland more effective and healthier places to work and study."

The teacher support charity's chair, Ivor Sutherland, added: "Our in-depth pilot has ensured the creation of a project tailored specifically to the unique needs of Scottish schools, early educational centres and - most crucially - their staff. We urge school and centre managers to sign up for the audit and use the toolkit to improve the wellbeing of their staff - and the effectiveness of their organisations - across Scotland."

School managers will, however, have to become more receptive. The study by the Society of Occupational Medicine found, "worryingly," that most of the teachers in distress were not receiving treatment. Only a third had discussed their problems with their manager, and a quarter of those who did not speak to their manager failed to do so for fear it would lead to questions about their ability to their job.

The report also reveals that 48 per cent of teachers who admitted to psychological distress in the past year had considered quitting, "suggesting that their distress was not trivial or short-lived".

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