Suffolk: Sickness rates increase amongst under-pressure teachers

Levels of teacher sickness revealed

Levels of teacher sickness revealed - Credit: PA

THE STRESS of Ofsted inspections has been blamed for a 16% increase in days off sick among Suffolk’s teachers.

The average number of sick days per teacher rose to 6.45 last year from 5.53 in 2010, according to new figures - the equivalent of every teacher having an extra day off through illness.

The statistics, released by Suffolk County Council following a Freedom of Information request, revealed a total of 86,138 days were lost to sickness during the past three years - the equivalent to 441 academic years of teaching time.

Teaching union NASUWT member Louise Allen, who teaches at All Saints Middle School in Sudbury, believes teachers face huge pressures.

She said: “National statistics for mental ill health show that one in four people every year are affected and I don’t think that’s very different in respect of teaching to other professions.

“When we are involved in casework, schools are seeking support with colleagues for performance or absence related issues.

“A large amount is to do with mental ill health and relates to the pressures of Ofsted.”

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The data revealed Suffolk had an average of 14,540 teachers from 2010 to 2012.

Reasons given for absence have included stress, back and neck problems, viral infections, industrial injury, skin conditions and road traffic accidents.

Graham White, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “The vast majority of teachers are going off through work-related stress and that’s down to a mixture of the pressures of Ofsted and increased workloads.

“Ofsted is really not helping at all because it is a punitive, not supportive measure.”

Mr White added: “Staff feel they are being overworked and that it doesn’t matter how much they put in, how hard they work and how good they are because it’s still not good enough.

“That’s not a criticism of headteachers because they are having a lot of pressure put on them by the authority and by Ofsted because it doesn’t want lots of schools in special measures.”

But Ofsted has hit back at claims it is to blame for teacher sickness.

A statement said: “Inspectors understand that teaching is hard work and can be stressful and do all they can to put staff at ease.

“Since September schools have been inspected with very little notice, which we believe helps to minimise the pressure on teachers.

“The headteacher and senior staff of any school also have a role to play in ensuring the experience for teaching staff during inspection is properly managed.”

The number of days off sick has fallen from 30,542 in 2010 to 26,568 last year.

A Suffolk County Council spokeswoman said many schools provide employee assistance programmes to staff with advice on work and non-work related issues.

“The county council encourages schools to manage absence in a proactive and timely manner and has a contract with an external occupational health provider for the provision of medical advice,” she added.

A HEADTEACHER has spoken of his surprise at the sickness rate figures.

Geoff Barton, of King Edward VI Upper School in Bury St Edmunds said the 85 teachers at the school have not experienced an increased absence rate, and if anything, there had been a slight fall.

He added: “I don’t think in my 30 years or so of being a teacher I have ever felt more pressure.

“In Suffolk it’s particularly because there is an intense focus on why Suffolk seems to be under performing.

“The accountability pressures of what the results are like in a particular classroom and how they are translated to how a school is judged is bound to increase the pressure on teachers without a doubt.

“That has added pressure to the job and we want teachers to think about the time spent in their classroom rather than how people are judging them.”

Mr Barton said schools need to do all they can to ensure the wellbeing of staff as well as ensure that students are not being disadvantaged.

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