Helpline opens for stressed teachers to get helpline line

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A NATIONAL 24-hour free-phone counselling service for stressed- out teachers will be announced today. Teacherline, offering support and advice to all 450,000 teachers in England and Wales, wants to save up to pounds 18m a year by cutting the cost of supply teachers to cover sickness. It also hopes to reduce recruitment costs by persuading more teachers to stay in the profession.

The Government is contributing pounds 250,000 towards the cost of the helpline, which is expected to be used by 15,000 teachers a year. Local authorities and unions are also contributing. Teacherline has been put together by a charity entitled TBF: the teacher support network, which says it will be the largest work-related counselling service in the country.

During the pilot project, the independent service dealt with problems from teachers who were having difficulty relating to colleagues or dealing with unruly pupils and those who felt schoolwork was ruining their family life. Its professional counsellors, who are mostly former teachers, are also prepared to deal with personal crises such as bereavement and alcoholism.

Though sickness and absenteeism are no higher than in other comparable professions, recent reports have highlighted growing stress among teachers. A 1995 survey by the Health and Safety Executive of work-related illness found that 4 per cent of current and recently working teachers suffered from stress, anxiety, depression and illness caused by their work.

A Mori poll commissioned by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers earlier this year found only 10 per cent of teenagers wanted to be teachers: the most common reason for rejecting the profession was that it was too stressful.

The association has had its own 24-hour helpline for four years and says it is "appalled by its success". It takes about 1,000 calls a year, some in the middle of the night.

Peter Smith, the association's general secretary, said: "Teachers have gone through an enormous period of change and reform in recent years which, in the private sector, would have driven many industries to the brink of survival.

"We have analysed the calls we receive and the thing that comes through most strongly is the impact of stress at work on teachers' personal lives, particularly marital stress. Teaching is the least family-friendly profession. Teachers who are also parents are working very long hours during term time and are falling over when it comes to the school holidays."

Patrick Nash, chief executive of TBF: the teacher support network, said: "The launch of Teacherline is a landmark in British teaching. Teacherline will help keep more teachers in the profession, help relieve stress and make them better able to cope. In addition to dealing with serious work or personal problems, Teacherline is also there for teachers who simply want to talk through a hard day."

Estelle Morris, the Schools minister, will today welcome the new service. She believes it will provide valuable support for teachers.

Counselling services already exist for professions such as doctors and nurses and in some multinational companies inclu-ding BP and British Airways.