THERE has been a 27 per cent rise in teaching staff sick days in the Borders due to mental health issues in the last three years.

The stark figures were revealed following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request lodged with Scottish Borders Council (SBC) late last year.

The absences take in all of the council’s 1942 teaching related staff and includes primary and secondary teachers, nursery nurses, additional needs assistants and classroom assistants.

The unidentified questioner asked the council: “How many sickness days for the reason of mental health issues (including stress, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.) were taken in your local authority in each year from 2013/14 Please only provide information for your council’s teaching related staff.

In the year 2013/14, a total of 2089 classroom days were lost, this dropped slightly to 2077 the next year but during the following 12 months 2015/16 it rocketed dramatically by 439 to 2516 and last year the figure stood at 2649.

The figures make grim reading and show that between 2013/14 and last year there was a massive rise of 560 lost days.

The Border Telegraph asked SBC if there was a direct correlation between the upsurge in absences due to mental health issues and the failure to fill many long standing teaching vacancies in the region.

And while SBC steered clear of linking the two issues, the spokesperson admitted attracting teachers to the advertised positions was difficult.

A spokesperson told us: “Like many other local authorities we are experiencing recruitment challenges for teachers, particularly with maths, business studies, home economics, physics, computing and technical.

“Being a rural authority, we are also finding recruitment to temporary posts increasingly challenging. Our education staff continue to work with Human Resources to review our vacancies to ensure posts are filled as quickly as possible and have reconfigured some posts to maximise interest in them.”

The council have also embarked on a ‘Grow Your Own’ project for primary teachers and are keen to extend this to secondary in the next session and in the 2017/18 session the council will be sponsoring people to return to teaching.

An online survey conducted by Bath Spa University in September 2017 of almost 5000 teachers revealed that four in ten Scottish educators plan to quit their jobs over the next 18 months because of stress and poor working conditions.

Researchers who conducted the independent study described the working conditions of Scotland’s teachers as “extremely poor”, with concerns raised over demands placed on educational staff, poor support from management, bad behaviour from pupils and parents and “constant changes” to the curriculum.

The report also found that the average teacher works 11 hours a week more than they are contracted to each week.

And it further revealed that “both primary and secondary teachers are exposed to high levels of poor student behaviour, and approximately 40 per cent of primary teachers are exposed to negative parental behaviour either online or on school premises at least once a month”.

Asked what measures are in place to help staff members cope with stress and mental illness, SBC replied: “We remain deeply committed to the health, wellbeing and professional development of all our staff and making sure they feel valued, supported and provided with the right environment, training, skills and knowledge to do their job effectively.

“We have a number of policies and supports in place for all staff who may be experiencing stress of any kind.”