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Monday 4 December 2000

The NASUWT today (4 December 2000) announced a record payment of 254,362 secured for a woman teacher in compensation for the stress which led directly to her enforced early ill-health retirement.

Speaking at a press conference to announce the award, Nigel de Grouchy, General Secretary of the NASUWT (the teachers' union with 180,217 in-service members) said:

"Government and employers had better wake up quickly to the soaring costs of work-related stress.

"The case of our member, Mrs Janice Howell and the Newport County Borough Council (formerly Gwent County Council) contains all the classic causes of stress against which the NASUWT has been warning. These include:

1. intense pressure from successive Governments for schools to retain disruptive and violent youngsters as well as coping with other special needs pupils in mainstream schools;
2. lack of suitable alternative educational provision for emotionally disturbed youngsters;
3. totally inadequate resources;
4. incompetent and uncaring management.

"If work-related stress is not taken more seriously by Government and employers it could become the cancer and chief killer of the 21st century.

"The case illustrates how intolerable it was to expect Jan Howell to cope with 11 special needs pupils in her mainstream school class with next to no support, having to deal with a seriously disturbed youngster who had previously been expelled from two other schools, with no cover provided for staff off sick and with her persistent calls for help ignored.

"I want to pay tribute to the great personal courage being shown by Jan Howell in facing the world publicly today to highlight the problem and hopefully play a part in preventing other teachers from suffering a similar fate.

"Whilst a quarter of a million pounds is a considerable sum of money is it scant compensation for the ill health and loss of career Jan Howell has unfortunately had to suffer. Hopefully the Government and employers will learn the lesson that cries for help are genuine and not just the whingeings of disgruntled teachers."


Mrs Jan Howell was a teacher at Maindee Junior School in Newport. She was an experienced and competent member of staff. Between 1 September 1994 and 1 February 1996 Mrs Howell was subjected to intolerable working conditions resulting in her suffering psychiatric problems. She left the Local Education Authority in 1996 retiring on ill-health grounds.

She had her first breakdown after trying to cope with a very difficult class. That class included eleven youngsters with special needs, many not speaking English as their first language, and one pupil who was extremely disturbed emotionally and had been expelled from two other schools before arriving in Jan Howell's class.

The support teacher for English as a second language was off sick and no cover provided. Jan Howell was offered no support and became more and more stressed, leading to a long period of absence from school.

On her return to school Jan Howell sought an interview with the Headteacher to raise her concerns that something had to be done because the situation was intolerable. She provided ample medical evidence.

Jan Howell asked for help and advice but none was forthcoming. Indeed the opposite occurred. The nursery nurse was removed to assist with the bureaucratic statementing procedures which are required in the assessment of youngsters with special education needs.

The strategy organised with the Headteacher to call for help when the extremely disturbed pupil was uncontrollable did not work. The Headteacher ignored Jan Howell's calls for help on a number of occasions. The final straw came when the disturbed youngster absconded from her class during the morning session and was seen walking along the edge of the tidal part of the adjacent river which contains dangerous mud flats. Jan Howell was beside herself with worry. She had asked to be informed if the boy's mother telephoned to say he had arrived home safely. She was not informed until the end of the day. The Headteacher had forgotten to relay the information despite being told at midday. It was then that Jan Howell experienced her second breakdown. She never returned to work.

Jan Howell was forced to retire through ill-health as a result of acute stress. She commenced action against the Local Authority in 1998 resulting in an admission of liability in January 2000. A settlement was reached between Mrs Howell and Newport County Borough Council in a total sum of 254,362.

As early as 1996 the NASUWT had made representations to the Local Authority. Warning signs should have been spotted as to the bad management of this school. Shortly after Mrs Howell issued proceedings against the LEA, the school was subjected to a special task force as a result of more teachers complaints and the level of staff turnover and sickness. The task force was established to investigate management problems at the school. She claimed that her psychiatric injury was a direct result of intolerable working conditions caused by or contributed to by the negligence of the local authority in that they failed to heed or act upon oral complaints and representations made by herself to the Headmistress and other members of teaching staff. The action resulted in the Head and Deputy being removed from the school.

Mrs Howell will be unable to resume her chosen career which she had followed for more than 24 years. She was a dedicated teacher who has lost a career as a result of her illness. She has been unable to work effectively since leaving education. Mrs Howell's legal action was funded by her union the NASUWT and her award is one of the highest for this type of personal injury.

Solicitors: Loosemores, Newport, Mr Charles Williams
Counsel: Dr Kathryn McConnochie
Counsel: Brian Langstaff QC

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