Thousands of teachers seeking help for stress

Burden of responsibility weighing more heavily as demands of the national curriculum impose new limits on classroom freedom
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A thousand teachers a month are calling a new helpline and many are suffering from stress or depression, according to figures released today.

Teachers are desperate for advice about disruptive pupils, ever-growing paperwork, bullying head teachers and Ofsted inspections.

Teacherline, operated by the Teacher Support Network and funded mainly by the Government, has received 6,000 calls - several hundred from teachers who are already on anti-depressants - since it opened six months ago.

Increasing responsibilitiesand government instructions on how teachers should do their job are partly to blame.

Patrick Nash, the network's chief executive, said: "Studies of workplace stress show that people are more susceptible to it if there is a big gap between the amount of responsibility they have and their freedom to choose how they cope with it. Twenty years ago, before the national curriculum, teachers had more freedom."

The report points out: "Callers often described feelings of helplessness in the face of more serious pupil misbehaviour or disruption."

Teachers believe, it adds, that the Government has made matters worse for them by setting targets to reduce the number of pupils excluded from school. "While understanding to some extent, the heads' reluctance to exclude, teachers feel unsupported, vulnerable and undervalued," the report says.

For other teachers, it is heads, deputies and heads of department who are the problem. Some want stronger leadership and complain that heads do not back them up in arguments with parents. Others say their head is "dictatorial to the point of steam-rolling" their needs and feelings".

Mr Nash said the common perception that teachers have easy lives, with nine-to-three working days and long holidays, was a myth. "They speak of transporting mountains of paper between home and school and of feeling overwhelmed by new initiatives," he said.

Teacherline (08000 562 561) is a free, independent counselling, support and advice service available 24 hours a day.

Yesterday, an inquest heard that a perfectionist primary school teacher hanged himself from a tree because he felt his best was not good enough for his pupils. James Patton, a teacher at Corpus Christi primary school in Stechford, Birmingham, was also depressed about a forthcoming Ofsted inspection.

* Teachers want more training on how to deal with difficult and argumentative parents, according to a poll of 950 teachers conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

One teacher said that in the school where she worked parents "either cannot be found to sort out a problem or are baying for your blood".

The poll also found that 87 per cent of teachers thought parents should take the main responsibility for sex education and personal, social and health education, including citizenship. Ministers are introducing new legislation to compel schools to teach about the value of marriage and stable relationships. They are also making citizenship compulsory in secondary schools.