In August 2016, the UK’s largest job site, Reed, provided data showing that education is the fourth fastest growing sector in terms of staffing needs, with a 22% growth in the last year. This illustrates the importance of retaining and looking after good quality staff in schools, as vacancies increase.
The CIPD (Chartered institute of personnel and development) 2015 annual survey found that an increase in absence is highest in the public sector- facing cuts and uncertainty, and within the education sector an average of 8.8 days per employee are lost each year, an increase from 6.1 days in 2014.
Implication of staff absences – financial cost and classroom disruption
Staff absence has a major impact on schools financially, costing the public sector an average of £789 per employee, per year.
There is evidence to show that it also has an impact on school performance. This may be due to supply staff, who are covering absence, not fully understanding the needs of the learners and the work set is often undemanding and does not engage learners. This makes it difficult for supply staff to establish good working relationships with learners and the learners are often disrespectful and demonstrate challenging behaviour. This low-level disruption has a negative impact on pupil achievement and progress in lessons.
Overall, in both primary and secondary schools, when the usual class teacher is absent, pupils make less progress in developing their skills, knowledge and understanding and behaviour in class is worse.
Staff absence also contributes to increased workload and pressure on colleagues who are picking up their duties. This increases the risk of work-related stress and further absence, amongst colleagues subsequently reducing staff morale and affecting productivity.
How is OH relevant to schools?
CIPD identifies stress as the top most common cause of long term absence in the public sector and work-related stress is a major cause for concern in the education sector.
Occupational health involvement was also found to be the single most effective approach for managing long term absence in the public sector.
In 2016, a NASUWT survey involving 1000 newly qualified teachers;
These figures are very worrying for our next generation of teachers, which may explain why the majority of our teacher workforce are above 30 years old.
Occupational health plays a vital role in managing the issues surrounding work-related stress, amongst other causes of absence.
How can OH support help a school and its staff?
Occupational health is always useful in managing health and wellbeing issues affecting an employee’s ability to effectively carry out their role. OH reports provide a useful tool with bespoke advice to help managers support staff with health and wellbeing challenges.
When schools engage with occupational health services, staff feel supported, valued and are more likely to engage with managers with regards to their health and wellbeing.
Occupational health can provide advice, recommendations and reasonable adjustments to help employers manage the causes of absence and support the employee on their return to work. Due to the pro-active nature of the service, early intervention and referrals to external therapists, it is more likely that staff will return to work earlier than without occupational health input.