Nearly 16 years’ worth of sick days were lost in Fife’s schools last year due to teachers taking time away from the classroom with mental health issues.
New figures released under Freedom of Information have revealed 5,825 full-time equivalent working days were lost by teaching staff in Fife, as a result of stress, in 2018/19 – a sharp rise on the 5,319 recorded the previous year.
Working days lost due to other mental health or nervous disorders showed a similar pattern over the past two financial years, rising from 1,593 days to 1,802 days in the period.
The statistics back up a recent survey by the EIS teaching union which suggested more than three quarters of teachers surveyed across Scotland said their workload left them feeling stressed, either frequently or all the time.
A total of 70% of the 12,000-plus respondents said they would not recommend teaching as a career as a result.
Conservative MSP Liz Smith, who represents the Mid Scotland and Fife region, described the figures as “staggering and truly shocking” and said they emphasise the pressure under which kingdom teachers operate.
She said: “I do hope that these teachers that have been off work due to stress or a mental health related condition have been receiving the appropriate support and medical help.
“These details follow on from findings in 2018 which showed that Fife has had a teacher recruitment crisis. We learnt at that time that hundreds of teaching posts had to be re-advertised as Fife struggled to fill vacancies.
“However, the situation in Fife appears to be part of an overall problem in Scotland, with many teachers having to take time off their work due to stress or a mental health problem, which isn’t good enough – the Scottish Government need to take note of these shocking figures.”
Her party colleague Murdo Fraser, who also represents the Mid Scotland and Fife region, called the figures “extremely worrying”.
“Teachers should not be subjected to so much pressure in their job that they are faced with taking time off work,” he said.
Councillor Fay Sinclair, convener of Fife’s education and children’s services committee, said the council recognises and values the hard work and dedication of all staff, including its teaching staff.
She said the total sickness absence for teachers was fewer than seven working days per full-time equivalent teacher and, of this, work-related stressed was just over half a day per full-time equivalent teacher.
“Last year, we introduced a policy ‘Supporting Mental Wellbeing at Work’, with agreement of the trade unions.
“The aim is to ensure a healthy workplace and our goal, as an inclusive employer, is for poor mental health to be supported in the same way as poor physical health.
“Whilst we have mental health and stress high on our agenda, we know that work related interventions will not be enough to support some employees whose stress is from outside the workplace.
“Difficult situations outwith employment can have a tremendous impact on the health and well-being of staff too and we recognise that anyone who is unwell may need time away from work, to enable them to return to work well.
“To help, our employee counselling service has been reprofiled to enable employees to self-refer and we are working towards introducing a network of Mental Health First Aiders. These interventions supplement existing services on offer such as occupational health, family friendly policies and training.”