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Teaching profession is being brought 'to its knees', warns former Omagh principal

A former Omagh school principal says ‘shock’ findings of a new mental health report come as no surprise to him.

Lewis Love, former head of Omagh High School and now an official of the Ulster Teachers’ Union, was speaking following the publication of a new report from the Education Support Partnership – a charity that supports teachers with poor mental health.

“Its publication couldn’t be more timely coming at the same time as Edinburgh teachers who refused to teach eight violent and disruptive pupils are sent home without pay,” he said.

“While the fact that more than four in 10 teachers now say they are struggling to cope with poor behaviour might be shocking to the general public, it is the daily reality for many teachers. The profession is on its knees in some areas. This is an issue we have been highlighting for some time now and it is one which cuts across all schools in some degree or another.

“What we have always known too but what this new data underpins is the ‘strong link’ between poor pupil behaviour and teachers' declining mental health. It’s citing a 35% increase in the number of calls to its helpline from teachers having suicidal thoughts. Our officers too are coping with a growing number of increasingly serious issues facing members who fear they’re being cut adrift to cope in isolation with issues not of their making.

“The employers have a duty of care to teachers which seems to have been overlooked in the rhetoric of assessments, inspections and league tables.

“What has happened to behaviour in our schools, in our society, that a third of teachers have mental health issues, and that half have insomnia – with numbers up a third since last year, according to the charity?

“Of course the violence in classrooms is perennially something which hits the headlines and we have teachers coming to us who have been assaulted – a pregnant teacher punched, another who lost handfuls of hair when she was attacked by a pupil, classroom furniture being flung at them, for instance. However, it is often the relentless disengagement from learning and undermining of teaching by parents which can wear teachers down too.

“The situation is bringing the profession to its knees – on top of the financial pressures which are adding to this perfect storm.

“The result is we see children with additional needs losing their classroom assistants and a growing number with behavioural issues being placed in so-called mainstream schools - all of this is happening without any recourse to how they will be adequately supported in a school with a shrinking budget and growing bills.

“It can only end one way – our children are failed and their teachers’ careers blighted. This to too high a price to pay and must not be tolerated in one of the world’s richest economies,” he said.

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