Monday, January 24, 2011

Why are West Lothian teachers more likely to be off with stress

I know I'm coming a bit late to this one as the story first came out last week, but I couldn't let it lie.

Scotland on Sunday reported on 16th January that the industrious Scottish Liberal Democrats research team in the Scottish Parliament had unearthed the fact that 1400 teachers across Scotland were off sick with stress. Particularly shocking to me was that my own Council, West Lothian, had 118 teachers off, almost 8.5% of the total. That's quite a lot for a comparatively small Council.

My daughter's school is fantastic. All the teachers put in huge amounts of effort to make it a place where curiosity and creativity are encouraged and nurtured alongside compassion and confidence. They are always so enthusiastic and positive. I wouldn't say they were perfect, but I can't thank them enough for making her primary school years challenging and happy.

I'd hate to think that any of those marvellous teachers were every put under so much stress that it made them ill. Believe me, it's a horrible situation to be in and the effect it has on not just the person concerned, but their whole family is really hard. No job should ever reduce someone to the state where they can't function.

I am fairly certain that such figures will be a concern to local Education Convener Andrew Miller. He's a decent bloke and I'm sure he will want to take action to alleviate the situation. Behind the statistics, you have to remember that there is real human suffering. All too often politicians bandy figures about as weapons rather than try to find solutions to the problems they show.

I'd like to know what West Lothian Council is doing to ascertain why so many of its teachers are absent with stress, and to help them to recover and return to work. If you are off with stress, the thought of returning to the same work environment if the causes of the stress have not been addressed can be crushing and not conducive to getting better.

There have been so many new developments in education over the past few years - implementing the Curriculum for Excellence being one of them, along with changes to assessment and monitoring and increased early intervention. To balance that, it's also been a time when there has been more help for teachers in terms of pupil support workers, and having management time built into their working week, all of which are under some threat with cuts to budgets. The education cuts in West Lothian aren't as bad as we were expecting, but there will still be an impact.

In reality, I don't know any teachers who get all their work done during school hours, or who don't buy things themselves to make their lessons better and more interesting for the kids. It's a challenging job where you have to have your wits about you all the time you're in the classroom. I feel for the 1400 people for whom it's become too much and I hope that all local authorities, not just mine, will take rational, responsible and compassionate action to improve things.


Andrew Miller said...

National statistics often suffer greatly from inconsistency of recording. What one authority classes as stress related, another chooses to class differently. One of the most frustrating examples is the one that the press queue up for, the violent incidences statistics, never mind that a parent getting a bit stressed and shouting "this isn't good enough" down the phone is classed as a single incident alongside somebody being punched in the face. I guess what I'm saying is that raw statistics are rarely representative and certainly lack any depth, analysis or context. They can however raise a flag to prompt a further investigation and I will indeed have a look at this one to see what lies behind the headline.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Andrew.

Just as a matter of interest, I'm assuming you have an occupational stress policy. I know other councils offer things like confidential counselling for staff which is really helpful and can minimise absence.


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