The number of teachers signed off with stress has soared by more than a quarter in recent years, according to figures that are fuelling fresh fears over the Covid pandemic’s impact on staff.

Freedom of Information (FoI) responses from 24 local authorities show 2,284 individuals were affected in 2019-20 – up 26 per cent on the 2016-17 total of 1,808. Increases over the period were particularly marked in Edinburgh, the Highlands and the Western Isles.

The Scottish Government and standards watchdog Education Scotland stressed £1.5 million had been invested in schemes to boost mental health and help manage Covid-related strains.

But the Scottish Conservatives, who obtained the data, said teachers were “feeling overworked and under-appreciated”.

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They added that not every council had responded to the FoI request, meaning the overall national totals are likely to be even higher.

Union leaders said the pandemic, which resulted in school closures and remote learning, had probably “exacerbated” the pressures bearing down on staff.

They also described the latest statistics as unsurprising and warned that several long-standing factors – among them workload, pupil misbehaviour, lack of specialist help for youngsters with additional support needs and “pushy parents” – were making life in the classroom impossible.

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Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said: “Working from home was in many ways more stressful for teachers, as it was taking them twice as long to complete certain tasks.

“Now they’re all back, however, the issues that were there previously are coming to the fore again and we’re already hearing from members that what they are being asked to deliver for the SQA [Scottish Qualifications Authority] under alternative certification is unmanageable.

“In the secondary schools you have got a shortage of teachers, particularly in areas such as Fife and Edinburgh. It means the teachers left in school are having to cover for people who are sick and so on. Lots of schools don’t bring in supply in the first instance and just ask existing teachers to cover the gaps.”

HeraldScotland: SSTA General Secretary Seamus Searson said several factors were behind the rising number of teachers being signed off.SSTA General Secretary Seamus Searson said several factors were behind the rising number of teachers being signed off.

Mr Searson also said there was a tendency among some senior management and parents to blame pupil misbehaviour on the class teacher.

“It’s when it’s not resolved and the youngster appears back in class the following week that stress goes up for the teacher because they just think, ‘What’s the point in complaining if nothing is done?’,” he said.

“Adding to that is the blame culture you have in some schools, with the headteacher and senior staff often saying to a class teacher, ‘If such and such a pupil is misbehaving, that’s your problem’. There’s the tendency to blame the teacher for the situation and say it’s the teacher’s fault rather than the pupil’s fault.

“In some places, particularly the better-off areas, you also have the issue of pushy parents refusing to accept there’s an issue with their child if he or she is misbehaving.”

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EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The rising trend in these figures is not surprising as it matches the findings of recent EIS health and wellbeing surveys that show more and more teachers are suffering from increased stress arising from excessive workload, leading to a poor work-life balance, alongside a lack of support in addressing additional support needs for students.

“The last year of coping with the impact of the pandemic is likely to have exacerbated the pressures. It is critical, therefore, that as we look to education recovery, support must be put in place around nurturing teacher well-being as a prerequisite for doing the same for pupils.”

Scottish Conservative education spokesman Jamie Greene said: “Our hardworking teachers are bearing the brunt of the SNP slashing thousands of teachers from our classrooms.

“It is hugely concerning to see thousands of teachers getting signed off every year. With the lack of support from SNP ministers, they are feeling overworked and under appreciated.

"The more teachers that have to be signed off only adds to the pressure for our schools.

"The Scottish Conservatives will recruit 3,000 additional teachers for our classrooms and ensure they are the ones making the decisions that are best for their school’s needs."

HeraldScotland: Jamie Greene, whose party obtained the data, said he was concerned.Jamie Greene, whose party obtained the data, said he was concerned.

He added: “Over their 14 years in charge, the SNP have failed to properly value our teachers who always go above and beyond for our pupils. They’ve been too obsessed with another [independence] referendum to focus on supporting them."

Edinburgh Council said health and wellbeing guidance for schools had been updated in light of the pandemic, with regular sessions delivered to headteachers.

A spokesman added: “We regularly consult our teaching staff to discuss and resolve any concerns and also provide a confidential counselling service for those who need extra help.”

Highland Council said it had a range of support services in place for staff, including stress risk assessments and mental health workplace training.

Officials at Western Isles Council said likely contributing factors to figures for their area were numeric fluctuations due to the small population and improved systems for identification, monitoring and reporting.

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They added additional measures such as an employee wellbeing officer and increased training had been introduced.

The Scottish Government and Education Scotland (ES) said a £1.5m funding package, which includes mental health support from Barnardo’s Scotland and the charity Place2Be, had been put together in the wake of Covid-19.

ES and the General Teaching Council for Scotland are also providing new professional learning opportunities for post-probation staff and have developed a coaching and mentoring offer.

An SNP spokesman said: “We recognise the stress teachers have been under to deliver learning throughout the pandemic and we have taken steps to reduce the workload of teachers by simplifying the curriculum and removing unnecessary paperwork.

“The Government has also undertaken a recruitment drive by hiring 1,400 over the pandemic. Our manifesto has committed £1billion to closing the attainment gap and recruiting another 3,500 teachers.”