CORNWALL'S teachers took more than 5,100 days off last year because of stress, it was revealed this week.
The scale of the problem emerged as teaching unions called on education leaders at County Hall to help teachers achieve a better 'work-life' balance.
Figures obtained by the Cornish Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act showed that teachers missed 5,122 working days in 2007-8, due to stress.
This was fewer than the previous year when stressed teachers took 6,025 days off school while there were 6,341 working days lost in 2005-6.
However, the teaching union, the NASUWT, said it did not believe the latest figures reflected the true levels of stress felt by teachers at schools across Cornwall.
Kathy Wallis, the union's county secretary, said: "In Cornwall, we are dealing with more cases of stress than ever before.
"It is now recognised that teaching is the most stressful of all jobs – the levels are phenomenally high."
Ms Wallis said teachers simply did not have enough time to do their job because of the demands of a succession of government initiatives.
"When you get one initiative after another, you realise the goal posts, the rules and the pitch you're playing on have changed.
"It would be really nice if the Government gave teachers more time to do the job and not use us as political footballs."
Ms Wallis said the credit crunch was also causing stress for newly-qualified teachers, who earn around £20,000 a year, as they were finding it "almost impossible" to secure a mortgage.
She added: "Under the Government's 'remodelling of the workforce' initiative, head teachers were given a duty to make sure staff have good work-life balances.
"We are working with a monitoring group at County Hall to help achieve this and if we can get a reasonable work-life balance, we should be well on the way to cutting stress levels."
There are said to be around 3,200 full or part-time teachers in Cornwall, plus an estimated 1,000 supply teachers.
Last month, the Cornish Guardian revealed that school staff in the county had suffered a four-fold increase in physical attacks in the past five years. The Freedom of Information Act figures showed that Cornwall County Council recorded 146 assaults on teachers and staff last year, compared with 37 in 2003.
Fears were also raised that more and more teachers were being driven to despair by "cyber-bullies" who had sent abusive text messages or e-mails and posted offensive clips on the internet.
The growing concerns over stressed teachers coincided with National Stress Awareness Day last Wednesday.
Patrick Nash, chief executive of Teacher Support Network, said: "The Health and Safety Executive itself has said that teaching is among the most stressful professions.
"It can lead to a wide array of physical and mental symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, and result in long term sickness absence.
"As well as damaging teachers' well-being, high stress levels among the profession also negatively affects children's education."