THE number of teachers off work with stress in York and North Yorkshire has risen sharply in the past five years.
Figures released by City of York Council under the Freedom of Information Act show that in the academic year 2007/8 there were 45 teachers off work with stress, a figure which rose to 65 the following year and which reached 73 in the 2011/12 academic year.
Meanwhile, in North Yorkshire – including Ryedale and Selby – the number of teachers who have had time off work suffering from stress or stress-related illnesses was 247 in 2006/7, and had risen to 280 in 2011/12.
Teachers’ unions and head teachers put much of the problem down to increased workload due in the main to changes in the Ofsted inspection system in recent years.
The most recent changes came into effect from September 1 with no-notice inspections replaced by a new short-notice inspection which normally means schools get a phone call the afternoon before the inspectors arrive. That call could come at any time.
Barbara Reagan, division secretary for City of York National Union of Teachers, said: “The workload for teachers has got worse over the past few years because of the changes to Ofsted making it harder for schools to get the ‘good’ grading that they want.
“Head teachers are under a lot more stress as well as classroom teachers as a result and this is not just a problem in York and North Yorkshire, but across the country as a whole.
“These figures probably only paint half the picture as I suspect there will be under-reporting. Really, people who are off with stress are just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of people go into work who are very stressed because if you are off work, your workload doesn’t go away.
“People think teachers have long holidays to compensate, but most work through their weekends and evenings and during some of the holidays.”
Andy Sutton, the York secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, said: “Pressure from Ofsted and the pressure of getting good exam results mean the number of hours teachers are working is increasing all the time and for many people the increased workload has a cumulative effect.
“Teachers want to improve standards in schools and you can’t do that if you are not able to go into school refreshed the next day because you are working excessively long hours.”
John Tomsett, head teacher at Huntington School in York, said: “I think head teachers are under more pressure than anyone and it’s our job to soak up pressure and make sure that a climate of fear doesn’t filter into schools. We are only going to be judged a good school if all 107 of my teachers feel motivated.”
Jill Hodges, assistant director for education and skills at City of York Council, said: “We take very seriously the issue of stress in the workplace and work with schools in York to tackle this issue proactively and as a preventative measure. We offer support to head teachers to manage individual cases and provide access to both the occupational health team and free counselling services.”