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'Intense' stress on teachers has cost £10m, Stormont committee is told

By Rebecca Black

The cost of teachers taking stress leave has topped £10m, according to the Irish National Teachers' Organisation.

The figure has been worked out from the number of days lost over the past five years from teachers on stress-related sick leave.

Tony Carlin of INTO said the situation was "spiralling out of control".

He said the figures revealed an "alarming real-life crisis" in our schools.

Mr Carlin said the figures released to Stormont's Education Committee revealed 82,057 teaching days have been lost through stress over the past five years, which is calculated as costing the taxpayer more than £10.7m.

Furthermore, the number of teaching days lost through work-related stress is 18,173, which is costing the taxpayer £2.3m over the same period.

Mr Carlin believes the number of days taken off is because of the level of work demanded from teachers, and the increasing number of people they now have to answer to.

"These figures are totally indicative of the level of work which teachers are required to do, inside and outside the classroom," he said.

"They have so many different groups of people to answer to, including parents, Boards of Governors and the Department of Education, on top of trying to educate our young people in the best way they can."

Mr Carlin said these figures did not reveal the true extent of the situation because they did not include teachers in the grammar sector or further education colleges.

"It's fair to say the total cost is much higher," he said.

"These figures also do not cover the cost of employing sub teachers to fill the positions of those teachers who have been forced to take off work due to stress."

The union chief said the education sector was now facing its fifth year of cuts.

Last Friday, members of the INTO union took part in strike action across Northern Ireland.

"These figures are alarming and the Department of Education can no longer bury its head in the sand," he said. "We are now facing our fifth year of cuts and last week's strike demonstrated that our members are saying enough is enough. There needs to be a value put on education. Our teachers need to be valued."

INTO also called on Minister John O'Dowd's department to be "wiser" about how it spends its money.

"Here we are with a £10.7m bill because teachers are too stressed to work, we have a £2.4m bill due to days lost because of work-related stress and to top it off we have a £943,648 bill because teacher suspensions are not being dealt with," he said.

"The department is accountable for how it spends its money.

"We are saying, give our teachers the support they need to do their jobs, put value on education and do not make cuts which will have a detrimental effect on our society as a whole.

"Something needs to be done before this ends up in the courts."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said it was aware of health and wellbeing issues faced by teachers, and "the importance of addressing them if we are to retain a committed, motivated and healthy teaching workforce".

She said responsibility for the health and wellbeing of teachers rested with Employing Authorities. "A Working Group, comprised of representatives from the department, employing authorities and teaching unions, has been established to consider and develop strategies to address health and wellbeing for teachers," she said.

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