A TEACHER who received a six-figure payout for stress is among those who have won a record £650,000 in compensation for work-related injuries received in Scotland’s schools.
The teacher, who does not wish to be identified, received an out-of-court settlement thought to be in the region of £250,000 after her employer’s failure to deal with an excessive workload led to a “stress-related psychiatric injury”. The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country’s biggest teaching union, said the payout was the largest amount of compensation one of its members had ever received for the effects of occupational stress.
The case was among £650,000 worth of compensation claims paid out to members of the union during the past year, including one where a teacher was kicked and punched in the side of the head while taking a class playing football and another where a pupil swung a door in a teacher’s face.
The union’s general secretary, Ronnie Smith, said the increasing number of cases involving stress had to be a “warning” to employers.
Mr Smith said: “Occupational stress is a major problem facing teachers and lecturers.
“The growth in the number of cases involving psychiatric injury and stress-related illness must be a warning to employers that they need to take account of their employees’ mental, as well as physical, wellbeing. The fact that this record compensation award arose from a workload-related case, which was compounded by a lack of management support, is no coincidence.
“This clearly illustrates just how serious such injuries can be, and the heavy price that employers will have to pay if they fail in their obligations to protect their staff.”
He said cash-strapped councils need to tackle the causes of stress by better managing workload or face further claims.
He added: “These settlements demonstrate the avoidable risks that many teaching professionals across Scotland face in the course of their work.
“Local authorities and other educational employers have the same duty of care to staff as any other employer.”
The figure of £650,000 is a significant rise from £181,000, the amount of compensation paid to EIS members in 2008, the last year for which figures are available. The union said both the annual total for 2011 and the single payout of around £250,000 were the largest on record.
Details of the claims comes at a time when cash-strapped councils are being forced to contend with cuts to their education budgets and a growing squeeze on teacher numbers. Increasing numbers of claims from over-worked teachers comes amid a series of cutbacks which include an 80 per cent fall in the number of foreign language assistants in Scotland’s schools and against a backdrop of a new pay deal for supply teachers, which has left many schools struggling to find cover.
Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said nearly all teachers were working an extra five hours a week simply to “stay afloat” and another five hours on top of that developing material for classes.
She said: “Stressed colleagues describe lying awake thinking about marking or coursework at 3 or 4 am; of feeling tired and ill constantly and of family arguments because they’re always working.
“Many then go on to describe feelings of failure and worthlessness, of being too tired to undertake their duties properly and of a constant cycle of illness and exhaustion. Working during the weekend and holidays becomes normal practice and time to ‘switch off and recharge’ an unaffordable luxury.”
She added: “All this describes the normal working environment of many teachers. Once workplace bullying, serious indiscipline or major family problems are added to the mix, a stressful working environment becomes intolerable. In these cases serious damage can occur, at times so serious the teacher’s health never recovers.”
Last year, Scottish teachers took part in their first national strike since 1986 over changes to their pensions, which they claim will see them contribute more and work longer before retirement.
The EIS has threatened further industrial action if any of the recommendations of the controversial McCormac report into teaching arrangements are introduced against its will.
There is also said to be “considerable anxiety” amongst the profession due to the continued roll out of Curriculum for Excellence, the new school curriculum which was introduced in 2010.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Work-related stress can take many forms and effect individuals in different ways. 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.”
A spokesman for Cosla, the umbrella organisation which represents Scotland’s councils, said compensation claims were a matter for individual local authorities.
He said: “Councils take the health and wellbeing of all of their employees very seriously indeed and take steps to ensure that measures are in place to detect and act on serious cases. However, it remains a matter for individual councils to address individual cases”.
Last year there were calls to reduce teachers’ workloads amid increasing stress, mental health issues and absenteeism.
It followed a study which showed that allowing staff to fall ill with mental health problems cost the UK economy £32 billion a year in sick pay, medical costs and compensation.