Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Why Your School Could Be Affecting Your Health

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Why Your School Could Be Affecting Your Health

Article excerpt

New analysis of absences reveals big differences in the number of days lost to staff sickness depending on school type, Ofsted rating and location

The chances of a teacher taking sick leave vary significantly depending on what kind of school they work in and where in the country they teach, an analysis of absences shows.

The revealing new research suggests that schools rated "inadequate" by Ofsted struggle with much higher rates of sickness than those rated "outstanding", while grammar schools have far lower levels than comprehensives.

Teachers who are working in sponsor-led primary academies are more likely to take time off ill than those who are working in local-authority primary schools, although the opposite is true at secondary level.

Regionally, the teachers most likely to take time off are to be found in the secondary schools of south-west England, while primary teachers in the north-east are the least likely to phone in sick.

Heads' leaders suggested that the analysis reflects how much harder it is to "struggle through" an illness and come in to work when conditions are tough - for example, when working in a school with a poor Ofsted rating.

Education data consultants SchoolDash looked at the proportion of teachers who took time off sick during the 2014-15 school year, as well as the average number of days off, using workforce census data published by the Department for Education. They found that, in primaries that had been rated "inadequate" by Ofsted, the length of time taken off sick averaged 9.97 days among those taking leave - compared with 6.26 days for teachers working in "outstanding" schools.

Similarly, in secondary schools, teachers were off sick for an average of 8.94 days in schools rated "inadequate", compared with 5.72 days in "outstanding" schools.

For both sectors, the likelihood of staff going off sick and the average number of days taken per year rises as Ofsted ratings fall.

Overall, the census showed that the proportion of teachers taking sickness absence was up slightly: 56 per cent of teachers had at least one period of sickness absence during 2014-15 compared with 55 per cent in 2013-14. But for those teachers taking sick leave, the average number of days lost was 7.6, which was lower than 7.9 in the previous year and down from 9.9 in 2000. The total number of days lost in 2014-15 was 2.22 million.

Cause or consequence

Timo Hannay, SchoolDash founder and author of the analysis, published on his blog (, writes: "The data doesn't tell us whether these higher levels of absence are a cause or a consequence of the perceived lower performance at these schools, but you can imagine them feeding off one another. Work at a struggling school must often be more stressful than at a high-performing one, and if the worst schools lose around 60 per cent more staff days to sickness than the best ones, this surely makes them less likely to improve.

"The patterns for in-school deprivation, local deprivation and low prior pupil attainment are somewhat similar, if less stark."

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The absence rate in teaching, overall, is very low. Teachers don't want to let kids or colleagues down. But teaching is a difficult job to do if you are under the weather, because you are in front of an audience the whole time.

"It is easier to struggle through, I would suggest, if you are in a school where there is less pressure on you. …

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