Teachers' stress: Absence level up

THE pressures of snap inspections, league tables and pupil performance has led to a sharp rise in the numbers of teachers suffering stress, it was claimed last night.

THE pressures of snap inspections, league tables and pupil performance has led to a sharp rise in the numbers of teachers suffering stress, it was claimed last night.

Worried unions chiefs said the perpetual scrutiny under which teachers were forced to work had created a 'hot house atmosphere' which was detrimental to their health.

Their fears were voiced after figures obtained revealed an 81pc increase in only three years in numbers of teachers being signed off with work-related stress.

In 2005/06, 113 separate staff absences were attributed to stress, but by 2008/09 that figure had leapt to 205.

Education bosses claim a change in the way sickness is recorded, implemented in June last year, is behind the upsurge.

However, Martin Goold, from the Suffolk branch of the National Union of Teachers, said the organisation was aware of a genuine increase - and claimed many cases were not properly recorded because GPs did not always identify stress as being work-related.

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He said: 'We are certainly aware of the increase and we can counter the council's view on the figures because GPs don't always record stress as work-related.

'There is often a peak around Ofsted inspections, when teachers psych themselves up for the inspection and see a slump in their health afterwards.

'We also have a system of payment by results - progress up the pay scale is dependant on students making sufficient progress. And headteachers, whose performance depends on their teachers, often put undue pressure on staff.

'There is a simplistic view from Ofsted that every child can improve if they are pushed hard enough but that creates a hot house atmosphere which is bad for everybody's health - including the children.

'One of the main reasons teachers are giving for leaving the profession, along with pupil behaviour, is workload stress.'

The figures, which can be published following a Freedom of Information request, follow a recent national poll of teachers which found that more than two out of five have suffered from stress-related illnesses.

Many have struggled with depression and insomnia but at the extreme end of the scale several have endured stress-related ME and angina.

Chris Lines, national senior vice president of the NASUWT, said: 'They may have changed the way they calculate the figures but what they are trying to say is because of that there is no increase. It's disingenuous.

'More and more teachers are facing more and more pressure in the classroom and there is evidence which shows that stress-related illnesses are going up.'

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: 'The county council works with all schools to provide support and guidance on the well being of staff.

'It is important to be clear that figures for 2008/2009 are not comparable with previous years. A completely new recording system was introduced in all schools in June 2008.

'Therefore, no conclusions can be drawn from an apparent increase in this year compared to previous years. We are confident that there has not been any significant increase in stress related absence.'

'The new system has made it much easier for schools to accurately record absences against relevant categories. We are now getting more accurate data which will help to identify any emerging trends and provide appropriate advice and support to schools.'

05/06 06/07 07/08 08/09 09 to date

Total 113 150 145 205 21

Men 35 35 37 40 2

Women 78 115 108 165 19

Primary 39 47 48 73 12

Secondary 69 96 89 124 8