Time to wake up to teachers' wellbeing

13th January 2006 at 00:00
The award made to a teacher for psychological injury ("Stress alert after pound;50,000 award", TESS last week) was perhaps the inevitable consequence of a lack of attention to teachers' wellbeing.

Employers are required to carry out a risk assessment and take appropriate action to ensure employees' health and safety. Risks which involve psychological injury are more difficult to identify than those which cause physical injury. Each job and work environment carries its own unique risks.

In a recent study by the Healthy Working Lives Group, which compared teachers and health workers taking early retirement due to ill-health, teachers were shown to experience only half the level of muscular-skeletal problems suffered by health workers but twice the level of psychological disorders. The reasons for this need to be understood and steps taken to address the causes.

The Health and Safety Executive recognises that psychological injury is a greater risk than physical injury in most jobs today. It also recognises schools as high-stress workplaces.

Research shows clearly that there are factors such as indiscipline and workload which are intrinsic to teaching and damage the psychological health of teachers; it also shows that, where management and leadership are poor, the risk of psychological injury is increased greatly.

Systemic changes are needed; class sizes and teaching resources are examples mentioned by the Educational Institute of Scotland in your report.

Developing more supportive cultures and management practices within schools would help to reduce pressure (and improve effectiveness).

Headteachers need particular support and development. Helping teachers themselves to become more resilient is also an essential element of reducing levels of stress.

A support service exclusively for teachers in Scotland, similar to that provided to teachers in England and Wales, would be of considerable benefit at minimal cost; as the EIS suggests, the current level of support is inadequate.

Teachers are vulnerable to psychological injury because of the nature of the work they do, the way they are managed and the kind of people they tend to be. This is not generally recognised or understood. Until it is, there will be more cases and awards like the one reported. It is indeed "time to wake up and smell the coffee", or face more claims.

Mike Finlayson Chief executive Teacher Support Scotland

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