From Tibet relief to Teacherline

7th April 2000 at 01:00
PATRICK NASH talks in a touchy-feely kind of way. He is into personal growth and ecology, set up one of the country's first wholefood co-operatives and organised the Dalai Lama's visit to the UK in 1996.

But he is perfectly business-like about turning the Teachers' Benevolent Fund - once described as the "Queen Mum of the NUT" - into an organisation fit to meet teachers' needs in the new millennium.

Set up more than 120 years ago by the NUT's predecessor, the National Union of Elementary Teachers, to help teachers in any union - or none - and their dependants, the fund was beginning to look a bit moth-eaten when Mr Nash became chief executive in January 1998.

Its formula - providing welfare grants for teachers and their dependants and running convalescent and retirement homes - had been unchanged for many years.

His task? "To reinvent the organisation," he says. "There was a clear opportunity here to set up something that would support teachers at the welfare and well-being level in a way they were clearly not getting."

The result was a change of name, to TBF: Teacher Support Network (benevolent sounded too Victorian, said a focus group) and the creation of Teacherline, the national helpline for teachers that was launched last September with support - both moral and financial - from the Government.

In the firs six months, the help-line's eight full-time counsellors and 17 part-time specialists have been fielding just over 1,000 calls a month. They have found teachers raising issues related to work about twice as often as callers to other work-based helplines, where most calls tend to be personal.

TBF gives financial advice to teachers too. In September 1997, the fund introduced debt counselling and now runs a general money advice service for teachers with financial problems. It plans to extend that to cover advice on welfare benefits.

Mr Nash used to be director of the Tibet Relief Fund. He loved Tibet but found it not very compatible with home life. (He and his partner, a psychotherapist and counsellor, have two school-age children.) So he came home, to deal with the urgent but less exotic problems of teachers.

HELPLINE FACTS

In the first six months, more than 6,000 teachers have called Teacherline seeking help

One in four of the workplace issues they raised were related to stress, anxiety and depression

Main issues of concern were excessive workload, pupil misbehaviour, conflict with managers and stress due to OFSTED inspections.

Teacherline (08000 562 561) is a free counselling and advice service available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to all teachers and trainee teachers in England and Wales


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