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NFER March 2020
NFER March 2020

Solutions to ease the absence management burden

March 3, 2020, 6:24 GMT+1
Read in 4 minutes
  • Adrian Lewis explains how tech can help you monitor the warning signs...
Solutions to ease the absence management burden

The Department of Education has reported that 2.03 million days were lost due to teacher sickness absence in 2017/18. The CIPD estimates the cost of absence for primary schools is £797 per employee per year.

Schools often see a spike in teacher absences during the winter months, which can be costly as supply teachers are recruited to cover classes, as well as disruptive for pupils.

All schools want to reduce their absences but the first step to reduce absence is for them to track and monitor absences to get more insight into the root causes.

For example, research tells us that it’s not just winter bugs causing absences, stress could be also be having a major impact on teachers.


In 2018, Teaching unions warned of an “epidemic of stress” in teaching, as research revealed that 3,750 teachers were signed off on long-term sick leave because of pressure of work, anxiety and mental illness.

One in 83 teachers spent more than a month off work in 2016-17. Mental health issues are a growing concern in the teaching profession, and stress-related absences are rising.

The Health and Safety Executive reported that 12.8 million working days are lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. In 2018/19 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44 per cent of all work-related ill health cases and 54 per cent of all working days lost due to ill health.

Warning signs

However, the impact of stress doesn’t happen overnight. Usually there are early warning signs. Maybe some teachers have taken a few days off here and there or they are suffering from more colds than usual. These could all be signals they are feeling stressed.

If employers can then offer interventions and support at this stage, they could potentially nip problems in the bud.

One issue is that stress can still be a taboo subject. Staff won’t necessarily reveal they are suffering or lie about what’s wrong with them.

A 2019 survey by Slater and Gordon found that 55 per cent told their employer they were physically ill when they were suffering from stress, and less than a third (32 per cent) admitted they had mental health issues.

Most weren’t honest because they didn’t think they would be supported, or they were embarrassed and didn’t want their colleagues to know.


One solution is for schools to use absence management technology to record and track absence. Such technology can provide complete visibility of who is in or off, highlight people taking regular days off and help to uncover the roots of issues.

The system will prompt return to work interviews too which provide employees with a safe and confidential environment to discuss health concerns such as stress or anxiety.

Chadwell Primary School has benefited from using our system Activ Absence – they are now managing all their holiday leave and sickness absence through the system and it is helping to reduce absence.

Another client is Bootham School and the HR manager has told us that our user-friendly and cost-effective system has given HR complete data transparency.

Individuals are managing their own leave, they can see their own records and log absence and leave requests, this is reducing administration, which was their key goal.


With absence management data and insight, schools can better manage sickness and mental health. They can take prompt action to support staff and tackle issues like stress head on, demonstrating the school is caring and focused on the wellbeing of their teachers.

The overall benefit to the school is that teachers feel happier, motivated and more productive at work and less likely to have time off.

Adrian Lewis is the Director of Activ Absence.

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