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Do teachers really know what stress is?
Headteachers and teachers who complain about their jobs have been criticised for not knowing what stress is.
Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw told a conference at Brighton College that in the past, headteachers who weren’t prepared to tackle poor teaching were not challenged.
He said: “We need to learn from this and challenge those who have power invested in them to make the difference, but too often make excuses for poor performance – ‘it’s just too hard, the children are too difficult, the families are too unsupportive, this job is far too stressful’.
“Let me tell you what stress is. Stress is what my father felt, who struggled to find a job in the 1950s and 1960s and who often had to work long hours in three different jobs and at weekends to support a growing family.”
Sir Michael added: “Stress is, I’m sure, what many of the million-and-a-half unemployed young people today feel – unable to get a job because they’ve had a poor experience of school and lack the necessary skills and qualifications to find employment.
“Stress is what I was under when I started as a head in 1985, in the context of widespread industrial action – teachers walking out of class at a moment’s notice, doing lunch duty on my own every day for three years because of colleagues who worked to rule, covering five classes in the sports hall when there was no-one to teach them.
“Stress was, in the days before local management of schools, writing letters in triplicate to the local authority asking for a brick wall to be built in the playground or for a bit of extra money to keep an excellent maths teacher – and not receiving a reply for weeks.”
Sir Michael claimed that headteachers are now in charge with better pay and more independence, power and resources than before.
He said they needed to be aware of “what a privileged position they are in” and use their new-found independence to get on with improving schools.
“What we don’t need are leaders in our schools whose first recourse is to blame someone else – whether it’s Ofsted, the local education authority, the Government or a whole host of other people,” Sir Michael told the conference.
But Ian Murch, assistant secretary of the Bradford branch of the NUT (National Union of Teachers) and member of the NUT national executive, called Sir Michael’s comments about stress “ignorant and very insulting”.
“Even according to the official Government health statistics, teaching is the occupation that suffers the third-highest level of stress arising from their work,” he said.
He said the NUT was constantly dealing with teachers who have had breakdowns resulting from the stress of their job.
Some of that stress arises from dealing with challenging pupils all the time and the increased workload from dealing with background work.
Mr Murch says the fact that teachers have long holidays makes the job seem easy to those outside the profession. “But a lot of teachers are having to work until late at night to do all the background work,” he added.
He said the stress on teachers was evident from the number who drop out shortly after joining the profession. “You have to train for four years to be a teacher, but within three years of starting the job, half of all people who start teaching have given it up,” he said.
“It is a huge level of drop-out and they say they had no idea how difficult it would be.”
Sir Michael also criticised mobile phones in schools, saying they could be “extremely disruptive in schools” and “make it difficult for teachers to teach”.
Sir Michael said it was up to schools to decide their rules about mobiles, and he said Ofsted would be “supportive of heads who took tough action to make the learning environment better for children”.
Mr Murch added: “There is no doubt mobiles are a problem. Children use them to text each other during lessons.”
He said while that can be “distracting and annoying”, it is difficult to ban mobiles in schools, and he said parents regard them as a way of contacting their child to make sure they are safe.
“The idea of banning pupils from having them doesn’t seem to be a runner,” he added.