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Schools and academies have an obligation to cover teacher absences. Since 2005 there has also been a statutory requirement for teachers to be provided at least 10% of their teaching time for planning, preparation and assessment outside of the classroom. Where this cannot be found from existing non-contact time, cover will be required. However, covering absent teachers can be financially costly, particularly for schools who need to engage supply teachers or who choose to directly hire staff to cover absences. Staff absences can also result in lost productivity and can be unsettling for the students, as well as putting increased pressure on existing members of staff. Despite the difficulties that staff absences can cause schools they can be very common, with approximately 57% of teachers taking a sickness absence each year.
Regular, short-term absences can be time consuming to deal with. Due to the nature of the absence, usually a minor illness such as a cold or stomach ache, your school is unlikely to receive much notice of the absence. This can make it a challenge to engage cover staff. Short term absences also often come in batches, for example when a virus is going around a school. Given the urgency, covering a short-term absence can be disproportionately costly and multiple short-term absences can be logistically tough to deal with.
Long-term absences are costly and can also have an emotional element involved too. Having a contingency plan in place helps to manage the effects that a long-term absence has on your school. Stress and mental health are often the most common causes of long-term sickness, and in many instances these absences can be reduced or prevented altogether if schools put the appropriate preventative measures in place.
A final step to fully understanding the implications of staff absence is also understanding how to budget for it. Staff absence can be a complete unknown and therefore is particularly difficult to budget for. However, there are measures you can put in place to mitigate the risk of unbudgeted expenditure and in some instances, completely protect you from the financial burden of unexpected staff absences. There are many different possible solutions to budgeting for staff absence, not all of which work for every school.
The first option is to self-cover by hiring a full-time member of cover staff who would be available to take any lessons or fulfil any duties of the absent member of staff. For larger schools this may be a practical solution, but for smaller schools this could prove to be too cost inefficient. The upside to this is that you will have a member of staff available who knows the school and the procedures, however the downside is that the individual can only cover one full-time equivalent member of staff. If more than one person is absent at any given time, further expense could be generated.
The second option is to self-cover by making financial provisions. Usually this means putting some budget aside for staff absences and dipping into it to cover the cost of supply teachers or new hires as a result of long term absences. The downside to this is the gamble you are making with the school’s finances. Depending on how much you allocate to this section of the budget, you may stray considerably over that with just a single long-term absence.
The final solution is to take out a staff absence insurance policy. As long as you take out a benefits policy (rather than an indemnity policy) you can still choose either of the first two options and continue to claim against your policy. Many schools will choose to hire a full-time cover teacher as well as taking out an insurance policy. That way all the income from any claims made will cover the cost of the supply teacher, and in the event of a cluster of absences or any particularly costly absences, the insurance will continue to cover them, meaning that the school isn’t left out of pocket. Therefore, if your school chooses to self-cover you may still find a staff absence insurance policy to be a good additional contingency plan.
Planning for staff absence is about being prepared. Many of the disruptive elements of absence can be minimised if arrangements have been made in advance. The best place to start is by drawing up an absence plan, which includes clear guidelines about:
How you will be arranging cover – using existing staff or a preferred supplier of cover.
Who will be arranging cover – deciding who is responsible for arranging cover, setting work plans and managing external supply teachers.
Availability of cover – always be sure to check that the type of individual you need is available, particularly for specialist members of staff.
The daily cost of cover – if applicable it is useful to know the daily cost of cover so that if claiming for insurance you will know how to set your daily benefit.
How the arrangements will be evaluated – monitoring quality and value for money.
Communications to other staff – how absence will be communicated in the school.
Communications with the absentee – how the absent member of staff should inform the school of their absence and their return to work date.
Health and wellbeing – any other steps the school can take to promote health and wellbeing amongst the staff.
Many schools choose to insure themselves against staff absences, however this isn’t for everyone. Before deciding whether or not to take out a staff absence insurance policy (sometimes known as staff sickness insurance or supply teacher insurance) it’s important to understand what this can do for your school.
At its core the purpose of insurance is to protect an individual or a business against any unexpected costs, and in the case of staff absence insurance this refers to costs incurred as a result of staff absence. This is particularly useful for schools who have a strict budget to adhere to and cannot risk exceeding their budget due to staff absences.
Some schools choose to self-cover by employing full-time cover teachers or supervisors. This usually isn’t a financially viable option for smaller schools but may work effectively for larger schools. However, schools who choose to self-cover should still consider any additional risk. For example, absences often happen in clusters, such as when an illness is going around a school, and in such instances you might still need to engage supply teachers. You may also still need to engage a supply teacher for any staff who particularly specialise in an area and can’t be covered by more ‘general’ cover staff.
It is also important to note that if you choose not to employ external cover teachers, you would still be able to claim against a benefits insurance policy (but not an indemnity policy) because no proof of supply is required. You can read about the difference between benefits and indemnity policies in the ‘policy types’ section.