Health & Safety Matters
Stress and Mental Health
Recent data collected through freedom of information requests has revealed a 5% rise in the number of teachers signed off work on long term sick leave due to stress and mental health. The data found that 3,750 teachers are on long-term leave for these reasons, which equates to one in every 83 teachers. The data also revealed that 1.3 million days had been taken off work due to stress and mental health in the last four years, 312,000 of which were in 2016-17.
Obviously stress and mental health issues are major concerns to teachers and they should be to schools. Teachers suffering from stress do not perform well so education suffers and when they are inevitably off ill the cost to the school can be high. Unfortunately some schools seem to think that the best way to cope with this is by trying to bully people back to work when they're still ill.
Schools have a duty to reduce the risk to the health and safety of their employees. This includes stress. The HSE believe that the best way to do this is through what they call the management standards. They have identified six areas that can cause stress. These are:
• The Demands of your job.
• Your Control over your work.
• The Support you receive from managers and colleagues.
• Your Relationships at work.
• Your Role in the organisation.
• Change and how it is managed.
Every school is expected to take steps to assess and reduce stress by carrying out a stress risk assessment. This should always involve them talking to their staff and one of the best ways to do this is by using a stress survey. If your school is not taking steps to reduce stress, and it appears a number aren't, then your school group should consider carrying out a stress survey on behalf of the NEU. There is an online version that is easy to use and teachers from outside the NEU can be invited to take part in it. Your school rep should have the details for this but you can get more details by contacting the NUT/NEU office.
Please don't take risks with your health by carrying on working when you're ill, out of misplaced loyalty to your school or your students. You're no good to them if you have a complete breakdown!
It's not just teachers who suffer. There have been a number of reports about rising levels of stress amongst students, particularly those taking SATs and GCSEs. A recent article in The Guardian quoted a teacher as saying that two Year 11 students in his school had recently attempted suicide and there were many more reports of students breaking down under the pressure of exams. We all want to help students to do their best but one has to question whether the incessant round of after school and weekend revision lessons does more harm than good. If children are being pressured to do these and work through their lunch times too they're probably being subjected to unacceptable levels of stress. This cannot help their performance in the exam room.
Leicester City Council recently revised and reissued its Management Standard for school swimming lessons and this seems to have created concern in some schools. The actual changes to the MS were actually very small but tightening up the checks on what schools are doing seems to have exposed weaknesses in procedures. Putting this right, and in particular drawing up the detailed risk assessment required, seems to have created a lot of work.
It's not reasonable to criticise LCC for this because they have only started checking that what should have been done already was in place. Unfortunately it wasn't in some places. This was a school management issue and any extra work should not have fallen to teachers unless they were given time off timetable to do it or had a management allowance for that purpose.
Procedures during actual lessons have also caused confusion in some cases and there have been reports of schools where teachers have been lugging massive folders of documents with them to the pool. This isn't necessary or desirable. All that should be needed is a simple checklist, pre-printed with details of staffing and duties, that takes up no more than two sides of A4 paper. All that the teachers then have to do is a series of head counts and a quick visual check that the pool is in good condition. If the school is using an LCC pool then most checks about staffing and the maintenance of equipment can be assumed to have been carried out by the pool. If a different pool is being used all the necessary arrangements should be made in the initial hiring agreement and do not need to be checked again.
The Midlands Region H&S Conference will take place on Thursday 28th July from 9am to 3pm. Details should have been emailed but if you need them contact the office. Training for new H&S Reps is being held at Tankersley Manor near Barnsley between the 9th and 13th July. Please sign up on the NEU website.