135 years of Teacher Support Network
We have been busy preparing for our 135th anniversary celebrations, which has meant looking back over a lot of old photos and annual reports. It has been fascinating not only to see how much has changed for us, but also for teachers over the years.
135 years ago, it was recognised that there was a need to provide an organisation for teachers that would:
"…encourage the spirit of self-help and thrift against times of sickness and disaster…to make due provision for casualties…[and] those who fell by the way…to provide succour and sustenance in times of sickness, adversity and sorrow, for those for whom there was none other to help; and for the bereaved families left behind."
So, in 1877, the Teachers' Benevolent Fund was created. Later, the Teacher's Benevolent Fund merged with the Orphanage and Orphan Fund to become the "Benevolent and Orphan Fund of the National Union of Teachers" otherwise known as Teachers' Benevolent Fund.
Originally, the purpose of the Fund was to provide temporary relief and funds in cases of emergency, to make grants to the widows and orphans of teachers and in special cases to grant annuities to elderly or incapacitated teachers. This led to the opening of first a boys orphanage at The Poplars in Peckham Rye and then a girls' orphanage in Sheffield at Firs Hill.
In the 1920s, we know the main reasons for teachers contacting the Teachers' Benevolent Fund were as follows:
- nervous breakdown: 394
- consumption: 295
- operations: 167
- rheumatoid arthritis: 87
- cancer: 17
Twenty years later, after the outbreak of war in the 1940s, reports tell us that the number of teachers suffering from tuberculosis, nervous disorders and "the sickness" increased, perhaps as an indicator of the situation at the time.
Interestingly, it is only the 1960s, when the issues that we are perhaps best known for supporting today begin to become more prevalent. The 1965 annual report states that: "with many problems, much encouragement in matters of anxiety, improving prospects and solid and sustained attention to trends clearly indicate the imperative need for the services of the fund to the [teaching] profession".
Reports in the 1980s also focus on anxiety and stress. The 1983 report states: "Unfortunately, there is a belief in some quarters that the TBF exists only to help the elderly. This is far from true. More often it is the young teacher who is the most vulnerable. An increasing number are experiencing difficulties caused by stress at school or problems with their marriage".
In the 90s, stress and anxiety continued to be an issue for teachers, but how we as a charity dealt with the problem changed. In 1999, the charity launched the Teacher Support Line for Teachers in England and Wales. It was instantly popular, dealing with over 11,000 calls in the first year.
Today, we thankfully no longer need to support teachers and their families dealing with consumption and the orphanages have long been closed. Yet, just as things have changed over the last 135 years, some things have unfortunately stayed the same.
While we may not talk in terms of 'nervous breakdown' or 'nervous disorders' as they did in the 1920s and 40s, stress, anxiety and stress-related sickness absence are just as much causes for concern for teachers now as they appear to have been back then, if not more. Last year, we dealt with over 22,000 calls from teachers and their families, not to mention emails, online tools, workshops, factsheet views.
What the needs of teachers will be over the next 135 years remains to be seen, but in the short term we, along with colleagues, senior management teams, the Government and the teaching unions, can help by being in the best position possible to meet the current needs of those working at the chalk face. In the words of the 1931 Teachers' Benevolent Fund: "To the future. Despite financial stress and heavy burdens we have quiet confidence and fervent hope. The needs of stressed teachers will require alleviation and they shall look to their professional brethren who are blessed with health and strength and in turn, they will surely not look back in vain."