Living at a Hundred Miles an Hour: Primary Teachers'
Perceptions of Work and Stress
The Open University
Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association
Annual Conference, Queen's University of Belfast, Northern Ireland, August
27th to August 30th 1998
School of Education
Centre for Sociology and Social Research
Walton Hall Milton Keynes
The wholesale restructuring of schools, teachers and teaching is being
accompanied by an escalation of teacher stress. Woods (1996) argues that
'stress is a multi-dimensional and multi-levelled phenomenon and personal
(micro), situational (meso) and structural (macro) factors are involved
in its production. This article explores the interconnections between these
three types of factors in the social construction and experience of teacher
stress, through the use of detailed qualitative data derived from interviews
with teachers who are experiencing stress and stress-related illness in
teaching. The main foci of the paper consider the teachers' perceptions
of causes of stress in their work and the part played in the generation
of stress by the changing nature of primary teachers' work and its organisation.
Draft Only: Please do not quote without permission of the author.
Though the personal experience of stress is decidedly individualistic,
it is expressed through the cultural and political milieu of the organisation.
By this, I mean firstly the differences in power, status, and control that
socially structure an organization, elements of which emanate from the
broader society of which the organization is a part.
(Stephen Fineman (1995, p.120) Stress, Emotion and Intervention)
Stress is a widespread and 'undeniable' aspect of the postmodern condition
(Newton, 1995). The extent of occupational stress and stress related illness,
particularly in Western societies, is now well established by social research
. In the United Kingdom it is estimated that each working day 270,000 people
are absent from work with stress and in 1996 sickness absence cost UK businesses
£12 billion (Ameghino, 1998). Accompanying this trend has been a
90% rise in mental health insurance claims in the last five years (ibid.).
Stress has traditionally been associated with the caring professions
and teaching has figured prominently here (Kyriacou and Sutcliffe, 1978).
There is now a considerable body of work which indicates an escalation
of teacher stress accompanying the wholesale restructuring of the education
system which began in the 1980s (Woods, 1995a; Travers and Cooper, 1996).
Woods et al. (1997) argue that:
The years of change have been accompanied by a rapid rise in the incidence
of stress and burnout. 5,980 teachers retired on grounds of ill-health
in 1995-6 (Government statistics, quoted in TES, 13/12/96), compared with
5549 in 1993-4, 2551 in 1987-8 and fewer than 1,400 in 1979 (Macleod and
Meikle, 1994). The number of teachers taking early retirement for whatever
reason has risen by 68 per cent over the past decade, jumping by 50 per
cent in 1988 - the year of the Education Reform Act - and climbing to a
total of 17, 798 in 1995, even though the Teachers' Pension Agency latterly
tightened up the interpretation of the rules. Furthermore, there are those
who remain in teaching but earnestly wish to leave. In a survey of 430
schools in ten local authority areas, Smithers (1989) revealed a deeply
discontented profession, with one in three teachers feeling 'trapped',
and wishing to 'escape'. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the phenomenon
of 'escape committees' - groups set up, officially with union sponsorship,
or unofficially, to help teachers 'escape' the profession. Travers and
Cooper (1996, p. 106) report that 66.4 per cent of their sample of teachers
had actively considered leaving the profession in the previous five years.
The situation is even worse for headteachers. The National Association
of Headteachers says four out of five heads are opting for early retirement
and that its officers are dealing with enquiries from members who feel
burned out in their forties (Fisher, 1995). Further, there is evidence
that teachers in some respects have been worse off than other professions
at risk (Travers and Cooper, 1993).
Currently there are more qualified teachers out of teaching than in
and primary teaching is facing a crisis of retention and recruitment. For
the first time, numbers of students wishing to train as primary teachers
has fallen significantly enough for government ministers and a senior official
of the Teacher Training Agency to voice his concerns in public (Booth in
Even though there has been a recent marked rise in the number of teachers
suffering the effects of stress, stress in teaching has been a research
focus for the past two decades (Kyriacou and Sutcliffe, 1979) with a large
majority of studies being influenced by biological and pyschological approaches.
Researchers working in these paradigms have often failed to look in a 'social
direction' for the causes of stress and its alleviation (Fineman, 1995).
The result is that the studies, as Handy argues:
fail to address the relationship between the current social environment
and the individual subjective experience in any depth.
(Handy, 1995, p.89)
The lack of emphasis on work and its organisation as the context in which
teacher stress may be produced and subjectively experienced is surprising
given the findings of recent social psychological studies of the workplace
which demonstrate the negative impact of the organisation on workers sense
of self and psychic health (Casey, 1995).
While there are many statistical studies of stress, there is an urgent
need for sociological and detailed qualitative research. Stress is a multi-dimensional
and multi-levelled phenomenon, and personal (micro) situational (meso)
and structural factors are involved in its production (Woods, 1995b). It
is an individually experienced phenomenon which is socially produced. There
are certainly the personal elements of personality, commitment, career
and role, and values involved. There are situational ones, too, of school
organisation, teacher culture and teacher/pupil relationships. However,
there are also wider factors such as the wholesale restructuring of schools
and teaching which has been taking place in recent years, which some argue
has led to the intensification of work. (Woods, 1996, p.1)
On the one hand, psychological studies largely neglect school organisation
and macro-structural explanations. While on the other, sociological research,
which describes and analyses the relationship between education reform
and teachers' changed work (see Bowe and Ball, 1992; Ball, 1994; Reay,
1996; Gewirtz, 1996), does not explore in any detail the teachers' experience
of stress. There is a need, therefore, for multi-dimensional research which
links micro, meso and macro levels.
The definition of stress we use in the research is grounded in the data.
We view stress as a process which has the following charactersitics - it:
affects health; disturbs emotions; is beyond personal control; affects
personal identity; involves a clash of values; and impacts negatively on
the work of teaching.
This article seeks to contribute to the understanding of stress in teaching
by exploring the perspectives of stressed teachers taking part in a study
of the social construction of teacher stress (Woods and Troman, 1997-2000).
Smylie (1995, p.3) has argued that 'what is stressful depends...on how
it is perceived, the main focus of this article, therefore, is to explore
the causes of stress in their work as teachers perceive them. Analysis
of in-depth life history interviews with the teachers has revealed that
a majority of teachers perceive the causes of their stress to be located
in the workplace and arise from the changed nature of their work in restructuring
schools and its organisation. While the interview data show teachers' perceptions
of causes are a complex mix of personal, situational and societal factors,
most teachers told the researcher of 'critical incidents' (Sikes et al.
1995) occurring at school which had precipitated episodes of stress-related
illness usually resulting in lengthy periods of absence from work. In this
respect the 'critical incidents'acted as a catalyst which both crystallized
and accelerated their stress.
The influencing factors are categorised as follows: chronic strains
in the personal life; the intensification of work; teacher/pupil relationships;
staff relationships; and accountability pressures.
Before discussing the analysis of the teachers' perceptions I will outline
the research methodology.
The principal method of the stress research is semi-structured and open-ended,
in-depth, life history interviewing. Most research on teacher stress has
adopted a psychological perspective and used large-scale survey methods.
By way of contrast, our research is qualitative in nature and we aimed
for a small sample of teachers. Thus, our ideal sample was defined in our
We propose to work in two, possibly three, local authority areas with
a sample of 24 teachers to be selected as follows:
This sample provides a clear focus (on primary and mid-career teachers),
and promises rich chances for comparison among factors involving gender,
position, and different forms of adaptation.
all from primary schools (this is in the interests of continuity, since
primary schools have been the focus of our researches for the past twelve
years, and this study would be a natural extension of that work, as explained
all to have been in their first post before 1988 and not older than 55
years of age
all to have experienced recent long-term absence from school for stress-related
illness (this is our operational definition of stress for the purposes
of this research * )
12 men, 12 women
12 headteachers, 12 classroom teachers
8 still receiving counselling, 8 successfully returned to teaching, 8 successfully
We propose to work collaboratively with a local authority Occupational
Health Unit which is currently engaged in counselling employees of the
local authority (largely teachers, social workers and fire service personnel)
who are experiencing stress. The unit also has knowledge of those teachers
who have returned to school or who have retired early or otherwise left
teaching for stress-related reasons.
Teachers conforming with this definition were identified by the Occupational
Health Unit who circulated our letter to these teachers inviting them to
take part in the research. The letter, in explaining the aims of the research
implied that we wished to do research with rather than on teachers and
stated that the research findings would be used to give voice to teachers
experiencing stress and also used to inform national and local policy with
regard to stress in teaching. One intention of doing the research, therefore,
is to change social situations for the better (Wolcott, 1995).
At this stage in the research eighteen teachers have responded and of
these fourteen are women.
The teachers who are taking part in the research are being interviewed
in their homes. Each interview is normally of one and a half to two hours
duration. The intention is to have a number of interviews with each respondent
over a two year period. This adds a longitudinal dimension to the research.
Analysis of transcripts, conducted in parallel with ongoing comparisons
with related research literature, feeds into future interviews and data
collection in order to facilitate 'progressive focusing' (Glaser and Strauss,
1967) and an escalation of insights (Lacey, 1976).
The research is informed by symbolic interactionist theory. Blumer (1976)
argued that social researchers guided by the theoretical framework of symbolic
interactionism would necessarily need to focus on actors' meanings, motivations
and interpretations. This is important to understand in research focusing
on teachers' experience of factors contributing to stressful conditions
in their work, for as Leithwood et al. argue:
It is not the 'objective' conditions of such factors that influences
burnout. It is the teacher's personal judgement of those conditions.
(Leithwood et al. 1995 p.26)
The Teachers' Perceived Causes of Stress in Teaching
The teachers' perceived causes of their stress and stress-related illness
are categorised as follows: chronic strains in the personal life; the intensification
of work; teacher/pupil relationships; staff relationships; and accountability.
I discuss each in turn.
Chronic Strains in the Personal Life
Most respondents identified stressors in their personal lives. Two kinds
of contributing factors (stressors) are identified by Pearlin (1989):
Although virtually all social scientists engaged in stress research
are interested in stressors, they differ considerably as to how they conceptualise
stressors and as to the importance they attach to different types of stressors.
In recent years, attention generally has been divided between life events,
on the one hand, and more enduring or recurrent life problems, sometimes
referred to as chronic strains on the other.
For the teachers in the stress research chronic strains often involved
difficulties in or a break up of a personal relationship. In some situations
the stressed teacher was caring for a dependent relative who was chronically
ill. Sometimes the relative would be living with the family but more often
at a distance. In this latter situation more strain was experienced as
the teacher was forced to make frequent journeys covering large distances.
Some teachers experienced the death of a close relative. Generally, these
type of events were paralleled with stressful circumstances at work and
it was difficult to establish which situation was causing the most stress
to the individual teacher. Mary, for instance experienced the negative
impact of a complex interrelation of influencing factors arising in both
professional and personal lives:
Mary: The first three years we were together things were all right.
But then I knew that he was very fond of drinking and it became increasingly
obvious to me that he was an alcoholic. And this is why I said I may not
be typical for your research because I'd been under tremendous pressure
at school with this Ofsted inspection coming up. And also tremendous pressure
at home because of him being an alcoholic. What used to frequently happen
was that he would go up the pub of an evening. He'd come back stupidly
drunk and he would harangue me about my shortcomings for as long as he
could. And he said I'd got lots so he would do a different selection every
Geoff: What sort of things were they?
Mary: Oh. He'd probably say that I was a rotten teacher, that I was
a rotten cook, that I was Irish, and I thought originally that my appeal
to him was the fact that I was Irish. He said he loved Ireland. Oh all
sorts of different things, you know. Anything that came into his head he
would harangue me about and -
Geoff: Was he a teacher as well?
Mary: No he wasn't.. I think this was part of the problem, he didn't
realise the pressures that teachers had, that you had to work in the evening.
Although I did try to stay at school as late as I could and do as much
as I could at work. He was a boat builder of course the recession affected
that industry very badly and in fact it's only getting out of it now. And
he's an excellent worker, people spoke very highly of his work, but there
was less and less work around. So of course financially he was also becoming
more and more dependent on me. And I had to take over the mortgage which
was quite large because we'd bought a big house. And after he'd harangued
me, which didn't do wonders for my self-esteem, he would play music very
loudly underneath the room in which I slept where there was a chimney breast.
So of course the noise would come right up to the room. And he'd play it
till 2, 3, 4 o'clock in the morning which devastating when I had to get
up and be bright eyed and bushy tailed at school at half past eight. My
self-esteem has been shattered by him.
Intensification of Work
Apple (1986) argues that, in late twentieth century capitalist societies,
work intensifies as capital experiences an accumulation crisis and pressure
for efficiency mounts in public and private sectors. Intensification leads
to reduced time for relaxation and reskilling; causes chronic and persistent
work overload; reduces quality of service; and separates the conceptualization
from the execution of tasks, making teachers dependent on outside expertise
and reducing them to technicians (A. Hargreaves, 1994, pp. 118-9).
The introduction of new roles and responsibilities, and retraining teachers
to 'deliver' a wider curriculum with a demanding assessment scheme (Campbell
and Neill, 1994) has contributed to intensification according to a number
of researchers. Woods (1995b) notes that work overload has been accompanied
a loss of spontaneity and an increase in stress, the sense of 'fun'
and caring human relationships has receded in some classrooms, quantification
has replaced qualitative evaluation, and bureaucracy has burgeoned, some
teachers feel that they have lost autonomy and control in the curriculum,
and accountability has become a matter of threat.
For Ben it had been the pace of work in primary teaching which had contributed
to his stress:
It's been like a sort of great weight hanging over my head, wondering
whether I could go back, wondering whether I'd be able to do it any more,
whether I would want to do it any more. And eventually I came to the conclusion
that I didn't feel that I would be able to do it any more, that I couldn't
cope. Because it is so much pressure and you're expected to do much more
than you were expected to do when I first came into the job. The job's
changed beyond all recognition and become a hundred miles an hour. And
I can't live at a hundred miles an hour.
Elizabeth experienced the pace of work as though on a production line perhaps
indicating that there is some truth in the intensification thesis which
states that teaching is becoming technisised and more like unskilled work:
And our school day has changed. Instead of having four sessions a
day we've now got five and they're shorter. So everyone's now - that has
put the pressure on. The pace has increased as well. And there isn't enough
time really just to stop and think about what you're doing. It feels like
a production line, school at the moment. You've got to get the stuff out,
get it done, move on, push push, fast fast.
Despite the moratorium on policy change (Dearing, 1994) the pace, orchestration
and unpredictability of policy change still feeds into teachers' work and
Mary: Because of all this paperwork that we have to do which is then
abortive. It's so frustrating. You get all these plans in place, you work
really, really hard getting them in place for two years or whatever it
is, you get all your methods in place for it, you get all your schemes
of work in place for it and then wham bam, it's gone again. It's like playing
chess with the red queen. But of course for the last ten years, pressures
have been on us unbearably, indescribable. And this isn't only my personal
view. This is most of my colleagues' view. They changed the national curriculum
three times and we were told last time that it would be in place for five
years. So now they're bringing back, bringing in an actual - the literacy
hour and the numeracy hour. So we are felling more forests again.
More major initiatives could be added to the ones mentioned here. For example,
plans to reduce the school holidays for teachers, the introduction of after
school homework clubs and summer schools and the establishment of education
Ben was stressed by the large class he taught and the attendant administrative
workload much of which he saw as irrelevant to the work of teaching:
I mean each child must have had at least ten different books to work
in. So at the end of each week I felt it was absolutely necessary to bring
them all home. And when you got 34 in a class like I had you're talking
about over 300 books. Just to get all the records updated. I was going
into school at 7.30 in the morning, leaving when the cleaners finished
at 5 o'clock, then bringing work home because it needed to be marked and
everything else. And then at the weekends one whole day out of the two
days was taken up getting all the school work prepared for the next week,
doing all the marking, updating all the records. A lot of it strictly wasn't
necessary. And while I appreciate you've got to have records, I think if
the teachers are competent written notes that they make about the child
concerning the different subject is all you need. You don't need to do
this. A special blue folder where we planned out all the work under headings
for the week. Then we did detailed plans then we had the weekly plans,
then we had all the records and it's just absolutely incredible.
While there are indications of work 'spill-over' into Ben's home life Susan
clearly perceives that her work is eroding family life and affecting her
physical, psychological and emotional well-being:
And I feel very annoyed that teaching's a job where they seem to be
able to say there are no set hours whatsoever. I want somebody to turn
round and say yes, I know it's not a nine to five job but a till what time
job is it? Surely there should be some time for people to have a family
life. I used to be fit. I used to do quite a lot of sport. Since I started
this (teaching) I haven't done a thing. So basically I'm unhealthy, I don't
spend time with my family, I'm completely and utterly exhausted all the
time. So put those three things together it's not worth it. Not worth it.
And I'm very annoyed that a job can do that.
The wide ranging but superficial work involved in teaching a nine subject
National Curriculum is contributing to William's stress:
I've found it much more difficult I think because of the general pressures
of the job, because of the amount of work we just have to cover with them
now. We never seem to be able to really have time to spend on anything.
We thought we were always moving on to the next thing. There never seemed
to be anything in any form of depth. It always seems to be very watered
down. My feeling is that we have to teach far too much really at primary
school level. Most of the friends I've got who work in secondary schools
The expansion of work in the primary school is not only in the area of
the curriculum but also in burgeoning administrative and managerial tasks
(Webb and Vulliamy, 1996). This is particularly the case for headteachers
of small schools. Woods et al, (1997) describe a headteacher in their researches
who was able to accommodate a wide range of tasks in her work as a 'composite'
head. The authors claim that 'she has become a 'composite' head, in that
her role is made up of many different aspects which work at different levels,
and which can be attuned to different situations. In this, and in the apparent
conflicts and contradictions of her role, she would appear to be making
the kind of adjustment required in the postmodern age - flexible, adaptive,
creative, opportunistic, collaborative, with a drive toward improvement
and self-development (ibid. p.140). However, Merryl, as head of a small
school, could not cope with 'compositeness':
I mean you had to be everything to everybody. You were the teacher
so you had to see parents as teacher, as their children's class teacher.
Then you were the head so you had to see parents in your role as the head.
You were the manager for the staff so you had the demands and the problems
that they had. There was the secretarial support that you needed to do
- the relationships you needed to build up there. The catering. The cleaning.
The role of the subject co-ordinator in the primary school is also very
diverse and demanding (Webb and Vulliamy, 1996; Troman, 1997). Deborah,
although for a time carrying out the 'composite' role of a subject co-ordinator
found it stressful and not the kind of career she had wanted:
I entered teaching to be a teacher of children. I did not enter to
be an RE coordinator. I do not want to be a music coordinator. I just want
to teach kids and I just want to see them do well. And I don't want to
be somebody who tells other people or writes policy documents or goes on
in-service training courses so they can feed back to other people.
Being able to cope with the 'composite' role meant that Ralph as deputy
headteacher needed to take shortcuts which seemed to do little to alleviate
his stress or increase his sense of 'personal accomplishment' (Keltchermans,
Difficult to be specific. I'm not sure that the children or their
parents were ever aware that things were slipping. But I was aware I was
taking more and more short-cuts. So I was going for pre-packaged worksheets.
The groups - I was doing more whole class teaching and less group teaching.
I was less prepared than I would have liked to have been because of my
knowledge of something at the start of a lesson. You know if you've got
a free evening and you're finished with your compulsory activities by 5
o'clock say, you can spare a couple of hours in the evening getting ready
for the morning or for the next week's work and reading up on the subject,
reading round the subject. And that was going. I mean there wasn't the
time. It was sort of dashing over here between 5 and 6, knowing I'd got
to be back here between 7 and 7.30 for another meeting. So that was going.
Because of the tiredness, because of the pressure of keeping everything
- all the balls in the air - I was well aware that I wasn't so enthusiastic.
I wasn't coming up with stimulating, exciting ways of presenting things
to children and it was more and more routines rather than stimulating this
thing. What was going to work? What's the best way of doing it? And that
aspect's going. I was involved with deputy head's training in a deputy
head's network in the area and all of us were saying the same things. Somebody
stood up at one of the local authority conferences for deputy heads and
said above all if you do nothing else right, you must be the best teacher
in your school. You must be an exemplar. And the poor bloke nearly got
lynched. I mean we all just sat there and laughed; you must be joking.
We know we have students, newly qualified teachers coming straight out
of college, who have got all the time in the world to make marvellous,
exciting displays. Going to town on this sort of thing. And we're running
round chasing our tails trying to keep up.
Many meetings extended Merryl's working days into the evenings:
Yes. And very, very often there'd be governors meetings or parents
meetings or PTA meetings in the evening and they would never start until
7 and very often go on until sort of 9, half 9. And invariably in most
cases I'd just stay on all through. Do a bit of work beforehand.
Deborah resented the time spent in bureaucratic tasks and meetings. The
time, she considered, should be spent more productively and directly contributing
to the children's education:
But you never get anything at the end of it. And you have to go through
a long winded process and write reams and reams and if I thought we were
going to get any money out of it so this child could get extra class help
or go somewhere else, then I'd do it happily. But I resent the time spent
on it knowing that nothing will come of it. It's when you are pen pushing
and spending your time, which as far as I'm concerned I'd far rather be
organising the classroom. I'd far rather be marking work, doing worksheets,
I mean I love preparing things for projects. But it all gets pushed to
the side when you know that you've got pupil profiles or you're trying
to statement a child or you've got to attend meetings and write up the
minutes of the meetings.
Physical spaces in schools can prove stressful in teaching (Denscombe,
1980). Judith found teaching in an open-plan situation precipitated a stress
They came back from a field trip and were obviously very excited about
it so the noise levels rose on that account. But they were making models
of I think a cathedral or something that they'd visited. And they decided
that they were going to be doing it in wood. And the art areas were integral
to our teaching areas. The whole thing. So there we were with all this
noise, the heat of the sun, this young man deciding that he's going to
disrupt anything that I try to do, and they started hammering. It was just
ridiculous. I couldn't handle it at all. And we could also see them doing
it. Because it's so open. So the children could see what they were doing
and obviously it was interesting. We all wanted to have a look and I just
- I just couldn't handle it at all. So I went to the head teacher and said
I'm just not making a go of this.
The lack of physical space in a small school meant that Merryl could not
escape to a 'back region' (Goffman, 1959). This meant that she had little
opportunity to retire to a staffroom for relaxation and association with
colleagues in a context where presentation of a professional 'front' could
be relaxed. Time away from the 'front region' of the classrooms normally
serves as an important professional pressure release valve:
It was also a very, very small school. Our staff room was also the
office and the children's television room and the sort of central meeting
place if any parents called in. So there was never anywhere I could go,
just for a moment's peace and a breather. And the phone would just keep
Consequently breaks from work pressures had to be sought in any available
Sometimes I used to just go to the loo, just to shut the door and
just be alone for a minute. And so thinking time, time for reflection without
interruption was nigh on impossible.
Duties, pastoral work and planning for teaching stressed Ben:
What really got me more than anything else I think is not being able
to take a break during the day. I mean the morning break was about fifteen
minutes. By the time you'd sort of got the kids out and shushed the stragglers
out the corridor, you were lucky if you had time to drink your coffee before
it was time to start again. And at lunchtime - the so called hour's break
- you were usually getting things ready for the afternoon or looking after
a child. You got about ten minutes to gobble down your sandwiches.
While good relationships with pupils have provided job satisfaction
(Woods et al. 1997) poor pupil behaviour has always been a source of stress
in teaching. Although most pupil misbehaviour impacting negatively on teachers
consists of low-level disruption (Kyriacou and Roe, 1988) and poor attititudes
to work (Woods et al. 1997) the number of serious physical assaults on
teachers (by pupils or their parents) is on the increase. Some of these
have caused the teachers involved to suffer from the serious somatic and
psychic condition of post-traumatic stress disorder (Kirkman, 1998). Sufferers
of this condition present with symptoms very similar to the serious medical
condition of 'post-traumatic combat neurosis' (Travers.and Cooper. 1996).
School size, type, location and the age of pupils attending are all important
factors impacting on teacher/pupil relationships. Exclusions of pupils
are growing and this is increasingly a problem in the primary school (Woods
et al. 1997). Some commentators suggest that the rise in exclusions is
associated with the marketisation of schooling (Woods et al. 1997). Schools
intent on preserving an image of the 'good' and 'well ordered' school may
exclude pupils who threaten this image or promise to depress the school's
performance in test score league tables (Nias, 1995). These moves are taking
place in a context where special educational needs children (some with
learning difficulties, emotional and behavioural disorders) are being integrated
into mainstream schools.
Only one respondent reported being physically assaulted by a pupil (Year
3 boy) but others told of colleagues who had been threatened with violence,
sometimes by quite young children. Judith, the teacher who had been physically
attacked said that she had started teaching as a mature entrant with 'the
class from hell'. William felt that younger pupils were now less well behaved
and teachers' status and authority were diminishing:
I mean I think year 6s have become harder to teach anyway over the
last few years. I certainly think they're harder work than they used to
be. I think that a lot of the sort of adolescent problems seem to be coming
down in age. It's not the sort of 14 and 15 year olds so much it seems.
The children seem to be growing up faster, more opinionated and not as
well behaved. And the parents expectations have been, I'm not sure, as
high. So I mean the power that I've got over them is not as much as it
used to be. They know that I can only go so far and that's as far as I
can go. So I think it's just the way education is at the moment; seems
Jackie and Elizabeth were working in inner city schools and dealing with
some of the problems of urban deprivation in the context of education cuts:
Jackie: It was quoted in public several times that it has been the
worst year group throughout the school that we'd ever had in the past thirty
years. And they were absolutely dire. The behaviour problems were severe.
The learning difficulties were worse than we'd ever had before. We had
people who had social, emotional, learning, behavioural difficulties all
rolled into one. We had children taking drugs which I'd never seen before.
I mean they were coming in either high as kites or really desperate to
get another fix. And there was nobody in charge of discipline because our
deputy had gone.
Elizabeth: Well we've got lots of children from quite disordered backgrounds,
very difficult families. Quite a lot of deprivation. All those sorts of
problems. We have an enormous amount of children on the free school meals
register, all those indicators that you're dealing with are more difficult
social economic groups. So we do have some quite disordered children. A
lot with behavioural problems and that's getting steadily worse all the
While not all of the teachers reported disruptive behaviour in their classrooms
those teachers who were year co-ordinators were responsible when difficulties
arose in colleagues classes. Jackie explained that:
What they (senior management team) decided in their wisdom should
happen is that if there was a problem with anybody's year group that they
should be sent to the year coordinator. Now as I was teaching twenty three
hours a week what was happening was I was teaching and suddenly the door
would fling open and some children would walk in and say so and so sent
us to see you, while you're in the middle of a lesson. And you were - I
was - expected to deal with this behavioural problem and keep my class
simmering nicely and then send the behaviour problem away and then take
the class back which might have happened once a week and we managed it.
But I was having it three times a day. And I got very stressed out about
Picking up the problems of other colleagues was also a feature of Merryl's
work; a teaching head in a very small primary school:
He would just lose his temper completely. And we had issues where
he was running out of the classroom, running round the school, kicking
bins - locking himself in the loo - all this sort of thing. When we actually
spoke to mum about these temper tantrums: never happened at home. What
was school doing to cause her son these problems? And this went on for
quite a while. He was in another member of staff's class. But very often
what we used to have was James throwing a wobbly so I'd have to leave my
class, make sure they'd got work to be getting on with. I'd have to calm
the other member of staff down who he'd just sworn at or whatever, get
her back into her class, so that she could look after her children. Then
I had to go and find him, try and calm him down, try and sort him out,
keep coming back to look after my own class, knowing that I was going to
have to confront the mother at the end of the day. And she was not very
supportive of the school at all.
Jackie, in trying to support a colleague and supply teacher found that
she was being blamed for poor pupil behaviour herself:
Their behaviour was so appalling. I was having to go in and rescue
the staff member next door from terrible situations. And then he left work
because he had a bit of a breakdown and the supply teacher that was standing
in for him. I mean one day for example they'd taken a roll of sellotape
and they'd sellotaped her desk and her chair and her handbag up completely.
She was nearly in tears. They were doing things like that. They were throwing
light bulbs across the classroom. But what was happening was nobody seemed
to believe that the kids were being bad. It was just because we weren't
handling it right. It was our fault. When we had had a deputy it was normally
a case of, I can't handle these kids. Will you take them off my hands.
Or will you deal with them, give them a dressing down. Yeah, I'll deal
with it. And that would just take them off your back.
Lack of support in maintaining discipline was not only stressful but generated
further poor teacher/pupil relationships:
Jackie: And I would be fobbed off with things like: 'Oh you don't
have discipline problems'. Well of course I don't think it would surprise
you to learn that gradually I just started to crack under this. I mean
just because you don't have discipline problems, and somebody else does,
doesn't mean to say that you're invincible. And I certainly wasn't. And
I could see. I suppose Jack (husband) could see the signs. And I know I
was beginning to get very ratty, bad tempered, shouting at the kids. The
whole atmosphere in the school was extremely poor. And people were being
really very unsupportive to each other.
As in A. Hargreaves' (1994) research the integration of children with special
educational needs (SEN) was proving stressful for the teachers. Ben felt
that the local authority was:
...shoving all these kids back into mainstream, closing the special
schools and then the schools haven't got the money to - I mean even the
special needs teacher, she could float around the different classrooms
and support the kids. This year, from September, she's actually taking
a class for most of the time. So I mean there's so little provision for
these sort of children.
Ben had experienced difficulty with one SEN pupil in his Year 4 class and
felt guilty that the majority of pupils were suffering educationally:
Soon after he came he sat down one lunchtime on the carpet and started
banging his head against the radiator and nobody could get him to move.
He would crawl under the tables, he would throw things around. He should
never have been in - there were 34 children, and half the time 33 suffered
because of the one. And that I think is wrong.
Elizabeth found the work of integrating children with emotional and behavioural
difficulties (EBD) and catering for the full range of pupil achievement
in a context of financial cuts very stressful. Talking of her class, she
One or two of those would be EBD children. In fact maybe three. Yes,
two definitely and a possible third. But the rest of them are learning
problems in that particular group. But yes a lot of special needs. We've
only got a part time special needs coordinator. And not enough LSAs to
go round really. So there's one class for example that I have - a year
five class - which has six children in it with EBD needs and I don't have
any help. So it's me, thirty ordinary children, six of whom have EBD problems
and there's paint everywhere and I'm expected to run an interesting practical
class with children who can be really difficult to manage. And that is
one thing that stresses me a lot because I have to spend a lot of time
staying calm and managing all this difficult behaviour without any help.
Which means that a lot of children are neglected. Because I just cannot
be everywhere at once. And it also limits the work you can do. You can't
do certain things when you're in a situation like that because it would
be chaotic part of it. So you really have to slow down and take things
in easy steps. So then it's really difficult to challenge the brighter
ones because you're spending so much time inputting for these other children
to keep them on task and keep them cheerful and working along in a positive
way. I just find it really really wearing to keep meaningful activities
going as opposed to control. You know. If I spend so much time trying to
control behaviour it's very difficult to get creative processes going,
meaningful ones anyway. So that's a real problem.
Some of the teachers were locked into a stress cycle where exhaustion contributed
to worsening teacher/pupil relationships which in turn induced further
exhaustion and impacted on teacher efficacy:
Susan: I'm exhausted and being exhausted is actually affecting my
performance in the classroom. Because I'd started to notice that certainly
by the end of the week I was getting to a stage where I just was not functioning
as I would be running on low fuel. Things were getting to me that wouldn't
have got to me on a Monday. And I was noticing that at the end of the week
I was just getting a little bit tetchier. Children's behaviour that I would
have dealt with in one way perhaps on a Monday or whatever. I was just
getting so tired by a Friday that the kids would wind me up more.
Elizabeth felt that the marketisation of schooling was resulting in more
'disordered' children attending her school:
There seems to be a sort of system operating at the moment when children
aren't managing in one school they get shunted to another one. We always
seem to have more than our fair share and we don't seem to be able to shunt
them on as fast as other schools can. So we've always got quite a high
percentage of children with educational and behavioural difficulties.
The management of consent and collaboration is a key role for leaders
of self-managing schools. Schools are urged to become 'more like businesses'
(Coopers and Lybrand, 1988), and postindustrial businesses have flattened
hierarchies in which all workers are 'empowered' to participate in management.
In their idea of the 'empowered school', D. Hargreaves and Hopkins, (1991,
p.15) argue that 'management is about people. Management arrangements are
what empower people. Empowerment, in short, is the purpose of management'.
They see management in an holistic sense with teachers, headteachers, parents
and governors engaged in a type of collaborative management which often
requires 'a change of school culture' (ibid. p.17). Previously the primary
school had been criticised because it was argued (D. Hargreaves, 1994)
that its culture of individualism was impeding innovation . Class teachers
operating individually and in isolation in their classrooms were seen to
be badly placed to respond creatively to change (Alexander, 1984). Fullan's
(1988) answer to school and teacher development lies in 'cracking the walls
of privatism'. However, as Fullan (1991, p.114) observes, 'Changing structures
is easier to bring about than changes in values, beliefs, behaviour and
other normative and cultural changes'. These changes, therefore, need support.
Following Werner (1982), A. Hargreaves (1994, p. 255) describes 'support
strategies' for reculturing, which: create release time so teachers work
together; assist them in collaborative planning; encourage teachers to
try a new experience, a new practice or grade level; involve teachers in
goal setting; and create a culture of collaboration, risk and improvement.
Market forces emphasize the role of headteachers as business leaders
while retaining their traditional responsibility for educational management.
Traditional primary school leadership has been criticised for supporting
hierarchical structures, and for slowness in responding to change (Alexander,
1992). In the role of entrepreneurial leader, headteachers can respond
creatively and flexibly to rapid changes in the external environment of
the school. They direct and manage human and material resources in order
to maximise pupils' learning. Faith in management to organise restructuring
of the institution, to devise technically based solutions and implement
radical reforms has been central to many of the recent changes. There is
a moral ascendency of managerialism (Inglis, 1989, Walker and Barton, 1987).
Consequently, the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) now sponsors
headteacher training for headteachers and intending headteachers, and the
Teacher Training Agency is developing a national curriculum for headteacher
development, and tests, leading to the national qualification for headship
The composite head tries to maintain the old role yet fit in the new.
This involves a fair degree of knife-edging between the two roles. Any
extremely negative experience, for example, a bad Ofsted report or bad
experience with a pupil can tip the person over the edge (Woods et al.
1997). Tension seems inherent in some of the roles teachers are coming
to terms with. The deputy head, for example, occupies the classic ambivalent
role. She is part of management but also part of the teaching staff. She
must be loyal to both. This is the classic in-between role which can create
a great deal of role strain and confusion.
All of the respondents were quite clear of the importance of good staff
relationships. Human exchanges in genuinely collaborative teacher cultures
made work more pleasant and served to reduce stress. Susan a newly qualified
teacher now working in a stressful school with poor staff relationships
reflects on her very different experiences in her teaching practice schools:
Both my practice schools were terrific. They had a sense of togetherness.
They had a sense of fun. They had a sense of humour that you could go and
have a laugh with somebody about a problem. And they could support you
and perhaps suggest some things and then ask you how they were going. But
all in a very, very non-threatening, helpful way. I went to see one of
them on the way back from university last week when I was trying to decide
what to do. I thought I'll just drop in and see one of my practice schools.
And I went in there and it was after the children had gone. And the first
thing, the first two members of staff I saw just ran out and gave me a
Although the probationary year is known to be stressful (Huberman, 1993;
Cains and Brown, 1998) Anna actually found subsequent years in a less emotionally
supportive teacher culture more difficult:
At first it didn't actually. I mean I found it very, very hard. But
looking back on it now my first year was my easiest year I think. And I've
found that it's got harder each year. Which is on the head to toe of what
I thought it would be like. I thought the first year would be very hard.
My first year I had a very good mentor who supported me, kind of helped
me and supported me through it.
Supportive and collaborative cultures, however, do not always provide a
guarantee of stress free teaching. Marion's colleagues recognised the early
signs of stress and communicated this to her. However, at first, she was
reluctant to listen to them. Nias (1995) argues that this kind of caring
and openess is characteristic of collaborative cultures and is functional
for preventing stress from becoming chronic or acute. However, this did
not seem to alleviate Marion's stress.
In some schools collaboration had become compulsory in order to aid
restructuring (Woods et al. 1997). But in practice the collaboration took
the form of 'contrived collegiality' (A. Hargreaves, 1994):
Susan: I think it's bureaucracy gone mad. Personally. I mean having
worked in a completely different environment I do not understand why I
have to be in a meeting which discusses the kitchen staff - discusses things
that I as an ordinary class teacher do not need to know about. I mean for
goodness sake there's a senior management in the schools, senior management
in schools are the people who need to know about these things. I am a normal
class teacher. I do not need to know about these things. I need to be sent
a memo about them, but I don't need to sit there when I could be doing
Geoff: Why have you had to discuss kitchen staff?
Susan: Well it just comes up. And I'm sitting there thinking I'm going
to explode in a minute. I'm going to tell them. But we all sit there. And
those kind of things possibly come up in morning meetings or whatever.
But there just seems to be - there seems to be a need to involve every
member of staff in every decision and I'm going through policies and they'll
be talking about whether there should be an 'and' there or an 'and also'.
And whether that full stop should be there or whether that comma should
be there. And I did actually say at one point it really doesn't make any
difference. It really does not make any difference. But there seems to
be an over obsession with involving everybody with everything - well to
the point where every single member of staff has to look over every single
policy and change the words about. Not change the policies but just change
the words about, very slightly; tinkering. This is just a ridiculous waste
of people's time when people are very, very busy.
Some of the schools in the sample had recently been formed as a result
of amalgamation. The impact of merging schools on teacher cultures and
staff relationships is generally negative and works against collaboration
(Dunham, 1984; Draper, 1993). Jackie works in an amalgamated school with
a newly appointed headteacher:
The chap that was made deputy I think they thought would have got
the job of head and to be fair with you he was a very competent person.
And I think he was embittered and there was a little bit of one camp against
another camp. Basically I don't think the chap (headteacher) really stood
much of a chance doing anything to please everybody. He did have weaknesses,
there is no doubt about it. I don't think he every really successfully
got people together. He didn't seem to get them - it's not a school where
people actually tend to bond together very well. What he's done is he's
split them into two camps now. Even worse.
In school amalgamations teacher career and status can be threatened (Riseborough,
1981). Mary lost her post of deputy headteacher in a school merger and
felt resentment when the new headteacher appointed personal friends and
former colleagues to senior posts. Mary felt that the 'mafia had been brought
in over our school'.
A significant number of teachers reported the cause of their stress
to lie in the kind of abusive treatment they had received from the management
of their schools. Jackie had experienced what she expressed as 'bullying'
from the headteacher who she described as 'insecure' and 'inadequate' and
good at 'mismanagement'. Perhaps ironically, the headteacher had developed
an anti-bullying policy for children which had been admired by Ofsted in
a recent inspection of the school:
Bullying is pre-empted and controlled effectively by the unique use
of the 'bully court' which is run solely by pupils elected by their classmates
under the supervision of the headteacher. The effective process of the
court is continuously being reviewed and updated. Legal requirements for
exclusions are rigorously followed.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL, 1996) claim that 'bullying'
in schools is on the increase and is a major cause of teachers leaving
teaching. They hold the cause of this increase to be as follows:
Headteachers in both maintained and independent schools are under
enormous pressure to produce results, sometimes within the constraint of
very limited resources. This pressure is often passed on to heads of departments
or post-holders who are similarly anxious to show that their area is performing
well. These stressed managers may find that support and advice are less
readily available than in the past and they, in turn, may resort to bullying
tactics. Meanwhile, league tables can lead to anxieties that a disappointing
showing in a single year will lead to pupils being transferred elsewhere.
(ibid. p. 1)
ATL defines bullying as follows:
The persistent (and normally deliberate) misuse of power or position
to intimidate, humiliate or undermine.
Jeremy received criticism by bureaucratic means:
At two o'clock on the last day of term in 1997, that was July, in
my pigeon hole was a two and a half page letter from the interim head.
He said that I was this, that and the other, obstructive, that the school
was in a tight situation, I was a very competent teacher but -. And he
was going to monitor my absence, and lots of others.
And next term on his return to school was criticised later more directly:
I was taken aside into a room by the interim head and he had arranged
a meeting with me and the deputy head and there he spent eighty minutes
personally attacking me and my attitude. I stood my ground. But I was off
the next day ill.
Susan said that her headteacher did not support her and undermined her
when she complained about the behaviour of some of the children in her
And before I know it I'm having it turned round - you must not - kind
of lead other people to think anything of children and you must be very
careful what you say. And I'm thinking I came in here with a child that
another (LSA) has seen do something to another child, and not only had
she seen him do it once but seen him do it twice. And he's sitting out
there and I'm expecting you to tear him off a strip and I'm the one who's
being torn off a strip. And I went out extremely confused and extremely
unhappy. And basically resolving never ever to go in there with a problem
again because as far as I'm concerned I have not been supported at all.
In fact as far as I'm concerned every problem that I've gone in with has
been kind of like the spotlight's been turned on me as to say, 'well, what
are you doing wrong? - What are you doing to cause this?'
Elizabeth's headteacher did not support staff and evaded major problems
in the school:
I think any child who threatens a member of staff like that something's
got to happen. It's not condoned but it's sort of glossed over. She's (headteacher)
a great one for glossing over things and not tackling them. So children
get too powerful in that situation. As I said before we've got a lot of
children who are leading sort of fairly disordered lives and they need
a velvet glove with an iron fist in it. But she's got the velvet glove
and inside is more velvet and it's just not effective. She doesn't - there's
lots of things wrong like there's no presence around the school; she hides
in the office.
Olivia's head had formerly been a friendly colleague but was now creating
a climate of criticism and using a range of 'bullying' strategies:
So the original team work had long since gone by now. Because originally
the kids would try and get at us saying, 'oh well you two are friends,
you obviously support one another'. It was very obvious to the kids that
that was the relationship we had. It was only friendship within the school
situation. We didn't meet outside of school. But it was obvious to everybody
that we got on well. But that all changed. Now she's undermining my status,
she's setting me an impossible workload, she's not acknowledging any value
in the work that I do, (which didn't worry me really because I worked to
my own standards), creating a critical atmosphere. I mean, I hated any
meeting with her because I knew it was going to be a catalogue of what
I hadn't done. And yet they were supposed to be supervision meetings. And
senior management meetings. How you can have a senior management meeting
with just two staff? - I don't know. Suddenly changing - goal posts changing
like nobody's business. Suddenly changing her position which created insecurity.
You suddenly realised that what you thought was the unwritten rule of procedure
she would suddenly change and we were doing something else.
Jackie's head also seems to conform to the 'changeling' (ATL, 1996, p.2)
I think the problem was that neither the pupils nor the staff knew
exactly how things were going to be from one day to the next. I mean one
day the children would be allowed to do whatever they liked. The next day
they'd be on detention for standing in the paved area. I think it was the
irrational behaviour that was upsetting everybody, and the undermining
of staff. We knew that children were being encouraged to complain about
this and you'd hear it happening with other people. I mean I - you could
hear the head saying something to a child about 'oh well, it's just so
and so' (a teacher). Instead of saying 'no this is wrong' he would actually
side with the child and undermine the member of staff. If he was doing
that about other people you knew he would do it about you as well. And
you could see the result.
Teaching is increasingly an insecure job as the number of teachers on temporary
and fixed-term contracts rises (Lawn, 1995). Additionally, financial cuts
force headteachers and governors into the position of having to make staff
redundant. Redundancy and its impact on staff relationships was a feature
of Judith's stress episode:
In 1990 they had to lose somebody so I actually received a redundancy
notice in May which was - it wasn't done correctly either because the governors
had never done it before and they didn't know how to do it. So there was
a lot of hassle about it and the unions became involved and it was also
very difficult and caused a lot of - not exactly ill feeling but, not even
mistrust, but everybody was kind of closing in and keeping things to themselves
because we were all - everybody was anxious thinking is it going to be
LSAs or is it going to be me? Is someone else going to take early retirement?
It was that kind of thing.
Financial cuts which involved the removal of non-contact time for staff
had brought about emotional turbulence in staff relationships in the school
where Ralph was deputy head:
We had at the time a full time member of staff giving non-contact
time to all the staff throughout the school. And if she was ill or her
daughter was ill - in my job we have diaries on each of the staffroom notice
boards to go and write up Lorraine (cover teacher) won't be in. Cover your
own classes for the day. And there were staff who on the one hand would
be coming emotional in tears, but also would stand there and scream and
shout: 'I need my non-contact time'. 'This isn't right'. I mean shouting.
And it would be at me. As if it's my fault because I'm the message bearer.
But at quarter to nine in the morning if that happens on enough occasions
you're beginning to twitch every time you're writing something up on the
noticeboard. You're waiting for it to happen. And for all the: it's not
my fault; there's nothing I can do about it; this is unreasonable, I find
being shouted at by staff stressful. I know it's part of my role as deputy
to handle staff who are feeling stressed and whatever. And at times I'm
tempted to turn round and say: Oh shut up. But you can't do that.
In this incident the deputy head was clearly being 'bullied' by the staff.
In another school the head, Arthur, was 'bullied' by the chair of governors:
He just throws the one liner. I was at County Hall receiving my long
service award and a visiting duty governor came into school and couldn't
find me. They asked the only person in school where I was and that person
didn't know. I'd told my acting deputy and my secretary where I was. So
there's the verbal comment at the governors meeting: Nobody knew where
you were. We need a list on the board to show where people are. The next
day in comes a governor with a great big planning sheet that size (opens
arms wide) where everybody'd put yellow dots on to show where they were.
So we started putting them up saying: gone to the butchers to get sausages.
They just hadn't thought the thing through. And they'd thrown a lot of
extra work on us - me - which wasn't required. And if they'd have said,
'can you find some way of resolving this?', we would have done that.
Reay both explains and describes a process which has been referred to as
The construction of teaching and learning embedded in effectiveness
literature along with the elision of teacher with manager in the 'new managerialism'
constitute the new discursive status quo teachers are having to operate
within. Together with budgetary constraints and powerful, regulatory government
policy it forms the context for staff inter-relationships in schools. In
addition, the rhetoric of 'raising standards' operates as a discursive/policy
straightjacket, cutting down the space for manoeuverability and restricting
heads' and senior managers' options. The race to improve exam results has
led to the increased surveillance and regulation of classroom practitioners'
work, generating tensions and putting pressure on staff relationships.
Some main grade teachers actually describe themselves as repositories for
tensions working their way down through the educational system.
(Reay, 1996, p.5)
At the same time as schemes for decentralisation are being introduced
(for example Local Management of Schools), the government, through the
Education Reform Act (1998), has instituted a large amount of centralization
through a mandated National Curriculum and system of testing. Published
test scores aim to provide a basis for both parental choice of school and
school accountability to the community. Four-yearly inspections by the
Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) provide public accountability.
The work of teaching is increasingly codified in the Ofsted criteria (1993
and 1995), and therefore easier to assess and grade by the inspectors.
Teaching methods are coming increasingly under scrutiny, with pressure
on teachers to adopt a more traditional style congruent with one supported
by the state (Clarke, 1991; DES, 1992). Internal systems of monitoring,
review and teacher appraisal, ostensibly devices to promote efficiency
and standards, provide a self-policing mode of accountability (Ball, 1994).
There is a groundswell of popular support for ideas concerning parents
having a greater control over, and choice in, the education of their
children. Parents as consumers are seeking the best buy in education.
Parent power is in the ascendent (Dale, 1989).
Before experiencing stress and later burnout Marion seems to have had
a moral commitment to her pupils, parents and colleagues. With the impending
Ofsted inspection legal accountability took over and the opposing values
of Ofsted looked certain to provide a 'head-on-collision' with Marion's
values. Accountability took on a life of its own 'just doing things for
someone else to read'. Accountability was the source of a great deal of
compulsion in her work - 'I had to do it'. In the early stages of illness
(at home) she tried to catch up with 'accountability' paperwork for the
inspection. She also wrote lists of household tasks she had completed in
order to be accountable to her husband. Now retirement is seen by her as
an escape from legal to self-accountability - 'And there is still a great
need to justify my existence. But it's only to me. No one is expecting
me to say what 'I've been doing and account for my day, minute by minute'.
The introduction of 'heavy duty accountability' (Jeffrey and Woods,
1996) into schools has caused a great deal of teacher apprehension. Many
of the teachers spoke of the stress of preparing for an Ofsted inspection.
Mary said, 'it's like the sword of Damocles hanging over your head'. Merryl
found the bureaucratic preparation for inspection a stressful time:
And then it came to the inspection. We heard about the inspection
and then - I mean the amount of paperwork that one has to do then is just
crazy. And I'd said that I needed more time to do this. And again it just
wasn't possible really to fund it. And I could feel it all happening again.
I could see all the signs; the irritability, the crying.
Ben and his school received an excellent Ofsted report but found the build
up to it contributed to intensification and was extremely stressful:
It was just hell really. And I felt that all the staff were very stressed,
particularly at the time we had the inspection in January. The amount of
preparation for that - and we were a school who were well prepared for
it I think. But it was still -. Planning. Yes you have to plan. You have
to plan things carefully. But you've got daily plans, weekly plans, medium
term plans, long term plans. There were plans coming out of our ears. Files
and files to give to the inspectors with all these plans in. And I know
damned well other schools that I've taught in weren't anywhere near as
geared up for it. And we came out of it very well. But the amount of work
involved in preparing for the visit was enormous. So we did all this extra
work on top of the normal work which was taking up our evenings and our
Only one teacher, Judith, spoke of the stresses of the week itself - the
surveillance of the inspection had been intensified by the open-plan classroom
which created a 'panopticon' (Foucault, 1977) effect:
And also because of the open plan even if they (inspectors) weren't
coming to our area you were open to view and you felt if someone else had
an inspector with them you really needed to keep your class really as quiet
as you could and as on target as you could so that they could get on and
do what they were doing. So that was difficult.
A number of the teachers had become ill prior to the inspection and were
absent from school when it took place. Some of those teachers who experienced
the inspection week successfully became ill in its aftermath.
Ben: I think what happens if you have one like we did, near the beginning
of a term, at the end of the inspection week everybody's sort of goes phew,
there, that's over and done with. And then it's very hard - it was very
hard for people to be motivated to continue for the rest of the term. It
was incredible to watch. I think also because everybody kept going and
were really working really long hours. I mean we were staying back in school
after five. And I think at the end of that mentally everybody relaxed and
then people became unwell, very tired, very run down. I mean a lot of the
staff were very run down and they don't seem - and I think this is typical
of schools everywhere - you go into the staff room and the staff are not
happy as a whole. So I mean I think there's been so much pressure been
put on by all the changes over the last few years that if it ends up making
the teachers stressed and unhappy it can't be beneficial for the children.
Accountability procedures such as school and local authority self-monitoring
take place in addition to regular Ofsted inspections:
I got back after that holidays and discovered that I was to be re-monitored.
We had four members of staff out on long term sick leave, maths hadn't
been taught by a specialist for eighteen months and I was told I was to
be re-monitored for art and design technology. The LEA were being expected
to pay for an inspector from another authority to come and do it. This
monitoring of both subjects was to take place in one day. Nobody can do
that, nobody. So I wrote to the head and said this is what's been decided.
And I said enough's enough. I want a letter to the LEA saying that I'm
under too much stress. I'm quite prepared to talk with the inspectors who've
done the monitoring and the governors, and analyse what's gone wrong. The
letter went in September '96. I heard nothing till the end of November
'96 and the principal inspector from the County walked through the door.
I was given half an hour's notice to hand in all my documentation for monitoring.
A date was given to me that I would be monitored. And I refused to hand
over the documentation. The principal inspector just expected it to be
put on the office table.
The forced collaboration mentioned earlier, was in Deborah's school, partly
to impress inspectors:
It seems that the only reason we attend these poxy meetings is so
that you've got a record to show the inspectors that you're actually going
to meetings. Whether or not you got actually something constructive or
sensible to talk about is a totally different matter. But they seem to
be constructing agendas just for agendas sake so that - I mean I'm very
much -. If I can see a point in attending meetings or doing something I
will do it.
Teachers are now more directly accountable to parents. Mary, a teacher
of twenty five years experience, returned to school after a term's absence
and was told by her headteacher that:
There were letters from parents - that they - I don't know whether
they were complaints but they were letters from parents and they felt that
this was why they wanted to see me. And my union official and I were only
given a very, very brief glance at these letters and they were from a group
of middle class parents. Now I - I didn't think I was under-functioning
but I thought I obviously must be. My doctor said this is probably what
did happen. But they were a group of middle class parents who were very
friendly in church and the union rep thought that they'd probably rubbed
each other up. Now they said that I was being kind and considerate with
the children and all this sort of thing. But I hadn't stretched them sufficiently
Mary is now facing the recently introduced 'competency procedures' which
are known as a 'fast-track dismissal system' (Wragg et al. 1997).
Jackie faced school internal disciplinary procedures when a parent complained
about her child being kept in detention.
Because the parents had complained I felt it was moral issue. Because
I felt that the children, if they had misbehaved, ought to be disciplined.
And the fact that this child's parents had decided to make a fuss about
it I felt was not fair, that he shouldn't be let off.
While Ralph had not noted a deterioration in standards of pupil behaviour
(cf other teachers in the research) he had experienced the joint impact
of pupils' manipulation and parent power.
I don't think children's behaviour has altered radically over the
time that I've been involved in teaching. What I have seen difference is
in parent's interactions with staff. Parents are much more prepared to
be critical. Much more prepared to come in if they feel that something
unfair or unjust or inappropriate has happened. Often based on either misinformation
or partial information. There was a time, and I'm aware that I was on the
tail end of it, but previously if you were in trouble at school and the
chances were if you went home and told your parents you'd be in trouble
at home as well. That's not the case now. There are many more, if you're
in trouble at school, 'oh that's not fair!'. I've had several instances
recently where children have been dealt with, I'm quite convinced fairly,
within the school, but for quite severe issues. And I've heard the children
at home at the end of the day screaming and ranting and raving at their
parents and because of that their parents are coming back to me and saying
this isn't right. I want this changed. I want something done about it.
Parents are to an extent being blackmailed and pressured by children. Children
aren't allowed to go home crying and upset because they're being told off
in school. You know, all children think it's not fair because I came off
worse. And I'm finding that much more common.
All of the teachers participating in the research reported here are
''diminished' teachers and are either 'leaving' the system or during stress
episodes 'sinking' beneath it" (Woods et al. 1997). It has to be asked,
why are these teachers responding to their changed work in the ways described
here while they have colleagues who are accommodating to the changes and
some feeling enhanced by them? This article has concentrated on structural
and situational factors and the teachers perceptions and experiences of
these. We do need to know more, however, about individual teacher's personality,.
commitment, career and role, and values (Woods, 1996) and these will form
the focus of a further paper. Such factors, too, as age, gender and position
are important in an analysis of teacher s' adaptations at various stages
of their careers (Huberman, 1993). However, we have tried to achieve a
representative sample of teachers as explained earlier in this article.
It could of course be argued, from a managerialist position , that the
teachers we have discussed here are in some way 'inadequate' or 'incompetent'
(Woods et al. 1997 have anticipated this critique). I feel this is unlikely,
for the majority of the teachers participating in the research have considerable
experience and records of being extremely able teachers. This is attested
to by their Local Education Authorities and many of them have been praised
by Ofsted for the work they are doing.
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* It should be noted here that survey research on teacher stress often
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stress at the time of the survey (see for example Leithwood et al. (1995).
It is not uncommon for such studies to also eschew a definition of stress.
This document was added to the Education-line database 09 December 1998