Teacher at 'out of control' school wins £300,000

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The Independent Online

A teacher of emotionally and behaviourally disturbed children has won a £300,000 settlement for stress.

A teacher of emotionally and behaviourally disturbed children has won a £300,000 settlement for stress.

The teacher who received the settlement - thought to be the biggest paid to a teacher for stress - has suffered a breakdown and is not being named. Mr A, who is aged 45 and has two children, said his troubles were caused by a headteacher who allowed pupils to get out of control. Mr A is on medication, has not slept properly for two years, rarely leaves home and receives weekly counselling.

When a new head arrived at his Shropshire school in January 1995, she introduced new rules. Mr A said discipline began to break down and viol-ence between pupils increased. Experienced teachers who criticised her were bullied and told to look for new jobs.

Despite opposition from her staff, she introduced a policy of paying children for behaving well. The policy failed after a term and a half. Mr A, whose case was fought by the National Union of Teachers, felt her new rules were inconsistent and incoherent: baseball hats were banned and the penalty for wearing them was suspension. Because children caught eating sweets were suspended, teachers were left with no sanction for serious offences.

Mr A said: "If the children are not organised properly, as a teacher you are at risk. I found the way the school was managed and the lack of a structure to maintain discipline very stressful. Ill-health became rife, with numerous absences as a result of the bad working conditions." Four months after the new head arrived, Mr A began to suffer stress symptoms. When his appearance deteriorated, the head pointed it out to pupils. Mr A said: "As time went on, I often did not know whether I had just arrived at work or was about to go home." Two months later, he went to Shropshire County Council and told an official that the children were out of control and the staff demoralised and stressed. "I said I was at breaking point. I was in such a terrible state that I began to cry."

He tried to contact the council several times after that meeting but heard nothing from it. All the teachers went to see the same official but nothing happened. By 1996, discipline was even worse and Mr A had to break up two fights between pupils. Later he was pushed down the stairs by a pupil. Though he was not physically injured, he began to suffer from delusions. Four days after that incident, a doctor told him that he had suffered a nervous breakdown. He has been unable to work since.

The NUT is dealing with 150 stress cases. Doug McAvoy, its general secretary, said: "This is an appalling case of lack of care and concern for the health and well-being of a teacher shown by both the school governors and Shropshire County Council. The teacher suffered dreadful stress which could have been dealt with if the authority had intervened as soon as it was aware of the problems."

Liz Nicholson, Shropshire's corporate director of education, said: "The county council was aware of the difficulties in the management of the school and steps were taken to address these. We worked closely with the management of the school and provided considerable support over a period of time. We very much regret the psychiatric problems experienced by Mr A during a difficult time in the school's history."