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Pupil attack case prompts tense teachers to bombard helpline

News | Published in TES Newspaper on 7 May, 2010 | By: Kerra Maddern

Support network sees 250 per cent surge in number of calls following trial of science tutor who beat boy with a dumbbell

Stressed school staff have flooded a telephone helpline in the aftermath of the high-profile case of depressed teacher, Peter Harvey, who attacked a disruptive pupil.

The number seeking assistance to cope with the pressures of the job rose by 250 per cent after Mr Harvey was cleared of trying to kill the 14-year-old boy, who he beat with a dumbbell.

Experts predict almost 90 per cent of teachers now suffer from stress. They claimed that this incident showed urgent improvements to the standards governing their health and well-being must be made.

Last weekend, in the hours that followed Mr Harvey's acquittal by a jury at Nottingham Crown Court, calls to the Teacher Support Network rose by 250 per cent.

The charity revealed that the proportion of teachers who say they suffer from stress has increased from 19.1 per cent in 2009 to 25.4 per cent in 2010.

Mr Harvey had been finding it increasingly difficult to deal with unruly pupils at All Saints' Roman Catholic School in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, because he was suffering from depression and was trying to help his ill wife, the court heard. Teenagers who knew about the situation targeted him.

The Teacher Support Network said the dramatic increase in the level of calls showed Mr Harvey's story had struck a chord with the profession. The charity's bosses have called for an independent body to "regulate" schools to make sure better attention is afforded to teachers' health and well-being.

The network also demanded "cultural change" to ensure that reporting psychological problems is not seen as a sign of weakness.

Chief executive Julian Stanley said: "Sickness levels are higher in teaching, stress clearly plays a major part in this, so it's questionable if teachers are prepared fully for the rigours of the classroom.

"It's clear teachers are not always served by the people employed to address their health and well-being needs."

Research shows that UK teachers are more stressed than their European counterparts. In the 1980s, causes of stress included large classes, workload and behaviour. They now also comprise "impossible expectations", low status and pay, and feeling undervalued by society.

Psychologist Elizabeth Hartney said teachers' emotional problems were caused by a change in the way they are perceived by the public, moving from a pillar of the community to "scapegoat" for society's ills.

"Their position of authority has been eroded and, on top of that, teachers feel more burdened - with admin as well as dealing with the diverse communities they now teach because of demographic shifts," Dr Hartney said.

AN ORDINARY DAY THAT TOOK A TURN FOR THE WORSE

His first lesson had gone smoothly on the day of the attack, July 8, 2009. Problems started for Peter Harvey in the second period, where he taught a Year 9 class, the jury at Nottingham Crown Court was told.

A pupil with behaviour problems arrived ten minutes late. She took no notice of Mr Harvey's command to sit down and "stop messing about".

Mr Harvey, 50, who admitted grievous bodily harm without intent, then kicked the girl's bag, the court heard. She started crying and ran out of the classroom, swearing at him as she left.

A group of pupils, including the attack victim, started playing volleyball with some scrunched up paper, then sword fighting with metre-long measuring sticks. They also called him a "psycho".

These events were filmed covertly by a student, with the children trying to "wind up" Mr Harvey so they could film his reaction and share the footage. This had happened before in the school, the jury was told.

Eventually, Mr Harvey managed to take the measuring sticks from the pupil whom he later attacked.

The boy then picked up a Bunsen burner stand and started "prancing" around the classroom holding it in the air. Mr Harvey confronted the boy and grabbed it out of his hand.

The boy then told him to "fuck off". The teacher grabbed him by the collar and dragged him out of the classroom into the science preparation room opposite, where he attacked the pupil with a dumbbell.

The jury found Mr Harvey not guilty of attempted murder. He was also cleared of grievous bodily harm with intent. Following his acquittal, the Crown Prosecution Service released CCTV footage (above) showing the moments after the attack.

'BREAKDOWN LEFT ME FEELING LIKE A ZOMBIE'

Liz Keetley, 55, a primary teacher in Nottinghamshire, had a breakdown instigated by the pressures of the job and behaviour problems in her class.

She says her illness was made worse by the way her return to work was handled by human resources managers.

"I just started thinking what an awful waste of a life it was and how I had been beaten by small children," she explains.

"I couldn't stop crying. I shouldn't have been pushed that far. People should know that when this happens, you are not yourself at all.

"I was like a zombie, I fell apart. For a while I couldn't find a way to live, or exist.

"But depression is not taken seriously enough. It's not a case of when you are better, it's not like a broken leg. Headteachers need more training to appreciate that."


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Comment (2)

  • Teachers shouldn't wait to seek help. It's great that the Teacher Support Network exists, and teachers can also use self-help resources, such as the book, "Stress Management for Teachers," by Dr Elizabeth Hartney, who was quoted in this article. The book addresses sources of stress for teachers, and provides strategies for teachers dealing with stress in and out of the workplace. There is also a version for FE teachers. Both can be found on the publishers website through this link:

    http://www.continuumbooks.com/search/default.aspx?Text=hartney

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    20:19
    13 May, 2010

    DrHartney

  • see 'teachers tv wellbeing'
    very helpful

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    13:52
    27 May, 2010

    amarro

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