Headteacher Magazine, guide to services and products for UK Schools
A total of 2.16 million days were lost due to teacher sickness absence in 2015/16 according to the latest statistics from the Department of Education[i].
Other figures from the Liberal Democrats[ii] this year revealed that one in 83 teachers is now on long-term leave of one month or more for stress and mental health issues in 2016/17 – up 5% on the previous year.
Adrian Lewis, director at Activ Absence says that sickness absence not only costs schools money, it can also impact staff morale and recruitment and retention, which can affect the pupils’ education.
Lewis says, “Tackling absence is essential given schools operate on tight budgets and are workplaces where absences will be immediately noticed. If a teacher is frequently off sick it will either add to supply teaching costs or the workload of other teachers and affect teaching standards.
“To address this situation, a growing number of educational establishments including primaries, academies and colleges are looking to drive efficiencies and reduce absenteeism levels by investing in absence management software to better manage their sickness absence.
“A good absence management system will let teachers log on to alert school managers they are sick, making it easier to plan the day and sort out cover in time for lessons. It can help reduce key skills shortages as well as support the return to work process.
“Having a system where you can see clearly who is off and when, whether this is for meetings, sick leave or holiday leave all in one place that is simple and easy to use, with zero training needed can be hugely beneficial.
“This software can also help uncover the root causes of sickness absence and pick up trends such as someone often off ill on a Monday which could indicate stress, a growing problem in British schools,” adds Mr Lewis.
A NASUWT union survey[iii] last year highlighted that one in ten teachers are taking anti-depressants to cope with work stresses - with heavy workloads and staff shortages being blamed. Having staff off sick is only adding to this problem.
“By gaining insight into absence trends managers can spot patterns of sickness which can bring mental health issues, such as stress and anxiety, to light more quickly. This enables managers to offer support and help teachers who may be struggling,” adds Mr Lewis.
Schools like the John Port Spencer Academy in Derbyshire are already getting the benefits of using this technology. Jeannette Topham, HR Officer says, “We started using Activ Absence in October 2017. We were looking for a system that streamlined requests for planned absence and one that also helped us to manage the sickness absence process. Staff have adapted to the new system really well and the online forms and email prompts are really useful for keeping everyone informed about what they need to do.
“The system keeps the School Leadership Team informed about staffing and the cover supervisor knows what requests are being made in advance to help anticipate any cover needs.”
Louise Varner, HR Administrator at Bootham School in York finds the system simple to use, highly intuitive with information easily accessed and clearly displayed. She says, “Reports can be customised to deliver management information as and when required and scheduled to run automatically.
“I have set up various alerts within the system which trigger e-mails to me, the HR manager and line manager if certain criterion is met. We use this information to inform positive interventions, as line managers are able to discuss any issues with their staff as soon as a pattern of absence emerges. This has had a positive impact in reducing absence and reflects the supportive ethos of the school.
“The online return to work form gives a coherent structure for line managers to follow when conducting interviews with staff and prompts them to fully explore any adjustments that may be needed to facilitate a phased return. The system also sends a reminder if the return to work has not been completed which is invaluable in ensuring that records are up to date and that we, as an organisation, are looking after the wellbeing of our staff.”
Mr Lewis concludes, “For schools, academies, colleges and universities thinking ahead to the new academic year and planning IT budgets now, investing in technology could be a game changer for reducing and managing staff absence effectively. Absence management software can bring efficiencies and savings, as well as help schools look after the wellbeing of staff their staff.”
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