Up to 15 teachers a day call in sick…

From last Tuesday’s Independent:

By Andy McSmith
Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Teachers taking time off for sickness cost almost three million working days in England alone last year, an increase of almost a fifth in a decade. On an ordinary school day, an average of 15,000 teachers are off sick across the country, according to government figures obtained by the Conservatives.

With schools having to pay a minimum of £103 a day for supply teachers, and sometimes as much as £210, the cost to the educational authorities of covering for sick teachers is “hundreds of millions of pounds”, the shadow Schools Secretary, Michael Gove, said.

More than 311,000 full and part-time teachers took sick leave in 2007, out of 465,672 registered teachers working in England’s schools. As there are about 195 days in the school year, the Tories calculated that means about 15,000 teachers were off sick each day.

Since 1999, the number of days lost through teacher sickness has risen from 2.5 million to 2.9 million. The average number of days a teacher takes off per year has gone up from 5.1 to 5.4 and the proportion of teachers taking time off has gone from 54 per cent to 57 per cent.

“It’s very worrying that the number of sick days has risen so dramatically. The Government needs to investigate the reasons so we can make sure there is as much stability as possible in every child’s education,” Mr Gove said.

But Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers said: “Given the enormous pressures teachers are under, it is remarkable that they have so little sick leave on average.”

I feel strongly that this was (to put it mildly) an incomplete, one-sided discussion, for the following reasons:

Omitted Data

There is not sufficient explanation of background details – the facts as presented are far from complete and cannot be said to be impartial. Teachers, according to data in the referenced article, take an average of 5.9 days off per year.  I have attempted to provide some balance below from a Telegraph article citing a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development report:

Health Services: 11.7 days per year
Public Sector: 9.8 days per year
Private Sector: 7.2 days per year
Teachers: 7.8 (the fewest of any public sector workers: stated in the Telegraph article)

These figures illustrate that there is nothing at all exceptional in being ill for six (or even eight) days per year. Given that the Conservative Party compiled the report quoted in the Independent, we might expect bias in favour of the private sector, but the Independent has failed to remedy this.  The Conservatives might seek to develop political capital by vilifying teachers but we cannot allow this article to stand on its own. A sole focus on teachers and the costs to schools offers a blinkered and warped perspective, especially when – and it bears repeating – teachers take fewer days than other public sector workers.

Inherent Bias

This partiality bears out in the language of the article, presumably reproduced verbatim from the Conservative Party press release. Teachers may well take (not cost) three million working days but sickness levels, as we have seen, actually compare favourably to other employees. This irrelevant inclusion of a sizeable number appears to have the objective of persuading the reader that teachers are malingering, indolent creatures. As we have seen, this is simply not true.

However, our earlier discussion is incidental – the Conservatives must generate news. So let’s allow them to address the very clear need to question teachers’ commitment to their profession. A demographic, let us not forget, that takes less time off for illness than the rest of the public sector. A sector average that is, depending on the source, either slightly less than or broadly comparable with employees of private companies. Why let facts get in the way of dogma?

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One Response

  1. I am a teacher, and yes, I do take a lot of sick days because I get sick often during a school year. I see roughly 500 kids per week (I teach public school elementary music) and some child is always sick. The little ones share lots of hugs and often come to school sick because there is not an adult to stay home with them.
    I always feel badly calling in sick, but there are not many solutions. I often come back to school before I am really ready.

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