Scottish teachers take months off in stress epidemic
A HEADTEACHER who was signed off work for nearly three years with stress is among dozens of education staff who have been on long-term leave from Scotland’s schools due to mental health problems.
Figures obtained by Scotland on Sunday show thousands of working days lost across the country in the past year to stress, depression, anxiety and mental fatigue.
At one Aberdeenshire school, records show the head was signed off for 981 calendar days with stress before returning to work.
Edinburgh City Council, one of the country’s largest education authorities, said the equivalent of 79 months had been lost in the last year alone through teacher stress, depression and other mental health issues.
In Fife, education bosses said stress accounted for 95 long-term absences in 2011, more than a host of other illnesses combined.
In Renfrewshire, a total of 51 teachers were signed off on long-term sick leave, defined as being more than 28 days, with psychological problems including stress, anxiety, depression and chronic fatigue, including one primary school teacher who was absent from June 2009 until the start of this month.
Psychologists said uncertainties surrounding job security and the introduction of Scotland’s new teaching framework, Curriculum for Excellence, had added to teachers’ stress levels.
Dr Cynthia McVey, a psychologist at Glasgow Caledonian University, who specialises in stress, said: “Control is a big factor in stress and teachers seem to have very limited resources in disciplining children – the days when you could give a child a row have gone to some extent in some schools.
“Curriculum for Excellence has also caused problems as I believe some teachers may not agree with the changes and, again, that is stressful.”
Last month, it emerged a teacher had received a six-figure payout after her employer’s failure to lighten an excess of work led to a “stress-related psychiatric injury”.
The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country’s biggest teaching union, said the payout – thought to be around £250,000 – was the largest amount of compensation one of its members had ever received for the effects of occupational stress.
Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said the job had become more stressful since the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence and a new deal which sees supply teachers paid just £78 a day before tax.
She said: “It’s much more difficult to get supply teachers as people are not prepared to work for 40 per cent of their previous salary and there is not the same money available to pay for supply.
“The situation has deteriorated largely due to lack of funds. Many councils used to have a dedicated welfare officer, but few still do because that was one of the jobs they could cut. That’s had a huge effect.”
A spokeswoman for Edinburgh City Council said: “We regularly consult with teachers to discuss and resolve concerns and provide a confidential counselling service for those needing extra support.”
Maria Walker, Aberdeenshire Council’s director of education, said: “Whatever the circumstances, managers are expected to support staff to remain at work or assist them in returning to work. The council has a variety of ways to do this, including employee assistance and occupational health providers.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government expects councils to take appropriate action at a local level to minimise the risk of stress or injury and any related claims through their own local health and safety procedures for staff and pupils.”
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