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Teachers' sick leave costing £50m a year

08-04-2008


08/04/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: News Letter

Over £50 million has been spent covering for teachers absent from the classroom through sickness.

In each of the last three years for which figures are available, teachers have taken up to two weeks' annual sick leave on average, costing the Department of Education up to £51.5 million a year.

The figure was revealed in an Assembly question by Tom Elliott, MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, who is now keen to find out the "underlying reasons" for the sickness levels.

In 2004-05, the average sick leave was just under eight days per teacher. The following year it was just under 10 days per teacher (two weeks), dropping to nine days per teacher in 2006-07.

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane said that at the time of answering Mr Elliott's query, 2,173 teachers were on sick leave, covering absences from one day to a full month.

Sickness levels were found to be highest among the Catholic Maintained Sector with just over 71,215 sick days recorded for the last academic year - an average of almost 11 days per teacher.

Within the Controlled Sector, there were a total of 60,348 days taken off sick by teachers.

Mr Elliott had sought a breakdown from each of the five education and library boards, the number of teachers currently on sick leave, the average amount of sick leave taken by teachers and the costs of substitute teachers to cover their absences over the last three years. The 51.5 million figure comes from paying substitute teachers varying rates of pay, depending on experience.

A spokesman from the North Eastern Education and Library Board said that its average payment was 158 per day. Mr Elliott said he had been prompted to ask the Assembly question after " talking with boards of governors about the general difficulties they face coping with teachers being off sick".

Stating that he wondered whether "our teachers are facing more difficulties" in terms of stress induced by " bullying by pupils", Mr Elliottsaid he confirmed he would be making " further inquiries to see what the main issues are here".

He said figures from the Education Minister had shown a drop in last year's sick days compared to the first period he queried. However, he said " they have increased from two years ago". "There's a significant jump from 200405 to 200506," he said.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said it was "aware of the level of sick absence in the teaching profession and has been working closely with the employing authorities in an effort to reduce these levels".

"The employing authorities have recently extended the provision of counselling services to all teachers via a 24hour telephone helpline and the management side and teacher side of the Teacher N e g o t i a t i n g Committee have recently agreed a revised management attendance procedure that has been issued to all schools."

 

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