Women know how to relax

12th May 2006 at 01:00
Male heads are too proud to seek therapy for stress, and struggle to unwind, unlike their female counterparts

Male headteachers are more likely to moan about stress, while female heads prefer to turn to therapy.

Women seek counselling and stress-management to help them deal with the pressures of work. Men, meanwhile, prefer a quick-fix solution from their doctor.

The ways men and women cope with the demands of leading a school are revealed in a survey of 688 primary and secondary heads, commissioned by the National Association of Head Teachers.

It shows that women were almost 10 times as likely as men to suffer from frequent or unexplained crying fits and were also significantly more prone to migraines and sleeplessness. However, more than 50 per cent of men complained of stress, compared to 41 per cent of women.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the NAHT and bass guitar player, said:

"A headship can be an extremely lonely place to be. There's a lot of accountability, but it's very difficult to discern support. Having somewhere where you can renew yourself, whether it's singing in a choir or playing in a band, is absolutely vital."

The survey shows that stressed women heads were twice as likely as men to see an occupational-health therapist, and almost twice as likely to go for counselling. By contrast, three-quarters of men said they would seek a doctor's advice.

Mr Brookes said: "It's a gender issue. Men are less inclined to ask for directions, to say they're stuck with something. It's to do with pride. But seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness."

Men were more likely to use work as an excuse for missing out on family life. More than half claimed that excessive workload had forced them to miss family or social occasions compared to 37 per cent of women.

Respondents were not asked to give their current marital status. But almost a third cared for at least one child. Significantly more men than women (37.3 per cent, compared with 26.6 per cent) still had childcare responsibilities when they were appointed to a headship.

Men were also significantly more likely to complain that work prevented them from seeing enough of their children and that this had damaged their relationship with them. Almost half said that they had been forced to leave household chores to their partners and most agreed this had not helped the relationship. One in eight said it had eventually led to a split with their partner.

Mr Brookes believes that men are missing out on an effective stress-management technique. "In school you spend the day working really hard and at the end think where's the result? Washing the dishes or cutting the grass can be therapeutic. When it's done, there's a result."

The gender divide is also reflected in calls to the Teacher Support Network telephone helpline. Men, who make up 31 per cent of the teaching workforce, account for just 20 per cent of calls.

Patrick Nash, chief executive, said: "There's no doubt that heads are having a very tough time. A lot of teachers high up the pay-scale say a headship isn't worth the extra hassle. But evidence suggests that a third fewer men are seeking help than ought to be."

* adi.bloom@tes.co.uk

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