By Oliver Farrimond
SCOTLAND’s beleaguered teachers took more almost 250 years’ worth of time off during the last two school years – due to STRESS.
New figures reveal the true extent of Scotland’s chaotic classrooms, with more than 3,000 teachers claiming days off due to excessive mental strain.
Since the beginning of 2007, almost 90,000 days have been lost, robbing pupils of valuable teaching time and Scottish schools of much-needed manpower.
A spokesman for Scotland’s biggest teachers union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, blamed large class sizes and a lack of support for the shocking figures.
Large class size
A spokesman said: “It has been known for a long time that stress-related illnesses are a major cause of absence throughout the teaching profession.
“The pressures of dealing with very large class sizes, a lack of support in meeting the demands of a teacher’s job and poor management within the school are some of the factors which can increase pressure on teachers and lead to absence through stress related illnesses.
“It is also important that adequate support is provided by authorities for those teachers who are suffering from the psychological or physical ill-health effects of stress.
“Only by putting each of these measures into place will we begin to see a reduction in absence related to stress.
“Before we can begin to see a reduction in stress related illness in teachers, issues of heavy workload, pupil indiscipline and large class sizes will have to be addressed.”
Fife Council’s teachers are amongst the worst affected, with more than 300 teachers opting to take time off rather than face unruly classrooms.
Teachers from the authority took almost 9,000 days off from teaching to deal with mental strain – almost 25 years’ of teaching time.
Under-strain teachers from the northern authority of Moray were forced to take even more days – only 82 teachers took almost 10,000 days off.
The figures are sure to intensify critics’ calls to solve the growing problem of Scotland’s swollen class sizes.
Only last month the EIS threatened to strike over the issue, demanding that classes be reduced to an absolute maximum of twenty.
Liz Smith, Shadow Minister for Children, Schools & Skills and Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife, said that news of Scotland’s absent teachers would be a huge worry for parents.
She said: “It will be a matter of considerable concern to parents that so many teachers are absent from the classroom for reasons which are stress related.
“This is not only hugely expensive but also unsettling for pupils, particularly when the absence is longer term.
“Those groups which represent the teaching profession have expressed their own concern about this matter for some time now and I think there are many who think that pupil indiscipline inside some classrooms is a major contributor to the pressures upon teachers.”
Wide spread issue
Tony McLaren, national coordinator for NHS Breathing Space – a confidential helpline for those struggling with personal problems – said that mental health issues were widespread amongst professionals.
He said: “Stress, depression and similar issues are just as serious as physical problems – this shows that mental health is everyone’s business.
“Many of the people who call us to talk about their problems aren’t unemployed or suffering from dementia – they’re professionals who face a lot of pressure in their working lives, and teachers are no exception.
“Walking into a classroom in front of 40 boys every day knowing that their performance reflects personally on you is a huge source of pressure, especially if teachers have personal problems to deal with as well.”