Teachers take 10,000 days off with stress in Suffolk

TEACHERS in Suffolk took almost 10,000 days off sick last year through stress, depression or anxiety.

The figures, released by Suffolk County Council following a Freedom of Information request, amount to the equivalent of about 50 academic years of teaching time.

Union bosses have attributed the high levels of stress-related absences to a huge increase in workload, the threat of inspections and the pressure of league tables and exams.

In 2008, there were 215 incidents of teacher absence across primary, middle, secondary and special schools – with a total of 6,996 days taken off from work due to stress.

In 2009, the figure rose to 218 cases spanning more than 10,500 days. More than 200 teachers were off for reasons cited as stress, depression and anxiety, while 14 teachers suffered from psychiatric stress.

In addition, one teacher was off for a year-and-a-half for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Figures from 2010 show that 190 teachers took a total of 9,774 days off, with a high majority suffering from psychiatric stress or depression and anxiety.

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The data reveals that across the three-year time period, 462 teachers were off for stress or stress-related illnesses.

Graham White, Suffolk's division secretary for the National Union of Teachers, said the high levels of stress reflected in the figures was not surprising. He said: 'I think that it is clear that teaching is an extremely stressful job and the figures do not surprise me.

'These figures are rising and teachers are becoming more and more stressed but this isn't a criticism of the school, it is just the nature of the job.

'There so many factors and elements which are all being imposed on teachers and schools and these all have knock-on effects.

'Stress is caused by the threat of Ofsted inspections, the amount of paperwork required, the pressure of league tables, exams and attaining certain levels.

'I know of teachers that are working double the amount of hours they are contracted to.

'Schools are supportive in matters of stress, but they could always be that little bit more supportive.'

Mr White also said that he believed each school would categorise stress in different ways.

Chris Lines, national president of National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, agreed that too much pressure was placed on teachers.

He added: 'I think that in particular in Suffolk, teachers have been placed under a great deal of stress due to the issues over the reorganising of schools.

'Periods of uncertainty always create stress, in addition it is clear that teachers are under constant scrutiny and being only as good as their last set of exam results.

'We need to work to reduce these stress levels, which can also be caused by the behaviour of students, these situations need to be alleviated.'

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council – the education authority – said: 'Suffolk County Council takes the welfare of staff very seriously.

'We will continue to work closely with employees and their managers to help and support any stress-related recovery. We offer support through Wellbeing Programmes, professional associations and HR departments.

'School staff have access to a free phone telephone number, which provides telephone based counselling and advice on a wide range of personal and work related issues'.

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