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The Daily Telegraph is reporting today that teachers employed by Suffolk County Council required a total of 10,000 days off with stress-related illness in 2010.
The total is the equivalent of 50 academic years lost due to stress, depression and anxiety-related conditions.
While the Telegraph reports the story today in the context of the challenges, in general, of the modern teaching profession, and the decline in behaviour standards in the classroom, the article does not offer any specific geographical analysis of the alarming figure.
Last Autumn, I noted that Suffolk County Council (in the east of England) had become the first local authority in the UK to outsource virtually all of its council services in a dramatic cost-cutting exercise. The BBC reported at the time that the aim of the council's New Strategic Direction was to "turn the authority from one which provides public services itself, to an enabling council which commissions other to carry out the services."
Now, at the end of the first year that this strategy has been implemented by the Conservative-controlled Council, we can see some of the human cost of this policy. In addition to the damage done to the health of teaching professionals in the county, there will also be increased financial costs - to cover the supply teachers needed to cover absences, as well as the legal costs involved in any related litigation. This is on top of the money that must be spent providing medical and psychiatric services to these troubled teachers.
The lesson of Suffolk's daring experiment seems to be that whatever the ideological merits of a smaller government, (which of course are hugely controversial in themselves), the process of transitioning to such an outsourced model is vitally important for the health and stability of the public service being delivered.
The more I look at the current government's drive towards public sector reform, the more I am convinced that at a process level (let alone ideologically) it is seriously flawed.
In being confronted with these statistics of teachers' rates of mental health problems in the county, I fear that we are looking at the future across the nation, unless the government can apply the handbrake to its public spending cuts.
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