How can you expect to improve your pupil attendance when your staff absence rates are alarmingly high?
I firmly believe that many schools often focus so heavily on pupil absence rates that staff absence ends up slipping through the net. According to the most recent statistics from the DfE circa 2017, education staff took 2.1 million sickness days. Although down compared to some previous years, the number of staff taking sickness days was at its highest point that year, up by 5,000 on 2016.
It’s difficult to infer whether this is statistically significant or not, but what can’t be denied is that there’s been a marked increase in absences at a time when questions around staff workload are at the forefront of policymakers’ minds.
So how do we unpack whether your own staff absence rates warrant cause for concern? There are some key trends to watch for at school level, albeit with a few significant prerequisites. To accurately monitor any trends, you need to first ensure that your staff absence is being effectively recorded, and that the mechanisms for doing so are fully aligned with your absence policy. Where appropriate, there needs to be significant buy-in from senior leaders and occupational health services.
This will involve ensuring that predetermined ‘absence reason’ categories are clearly defined and captured across the key start and end dates of absence, along with appropriate notes. Most MISs will be fully capable of capturing this data as part of their basic feature set.
Assuming your data is being recorded accurately, you can then begin to understand both the frequency of your staff absence and the amount of time lost to it (those lost days or hours being expressed as a percentage of the total possible days or hours the staff could have worked). These trends can be highly illuminating – one example being the way in which they allow you to analyse any correlations between teacher absence and class performance, enabling you to understand what (if any) impact it’s having on pupil learning.
Capturing absence data like this further enables you see whether there might be patterns at particular times of the year or during certain weeks, such as frequent ‘Friday and Monday’ absences resulting in extended weekends. I’d also strongly recommend focusing on cumulative days of absence within a given period – this can typically trigger action around checking in on staff wellbeing, and will be a common feature in most school absence policies, making the process of identifying and understanding it that much more efficient.
Observing the above suggestions should enable leaders to then ensure that appropriate support from the school is communicated clearly and efficiently upon a staff member’s return to work and at their review meetings, thus creating an environment in which people can re-engage with their role seamlessly.
Tyrone Samuel is an education data, systems and insight professional.