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The case for duvet days

According to one of the agencies I regularly order supply teachers from, November is the month when secondary schools all over London start to get out the cheque books and spend big money on sickness cover. The agency's earnings shoot up as the clocks go back, evenings get darker and the weather gets colder.

It is a nightmare for most middle managers when teaching staff are away. They have to run around setting cover for other people while also teaching their own lessons throughout the day. It is not surprising that sometimes they can think uncharitable thoughts of their absent colleagues, especially if it is a teacher who is too often away.

But what should schools do about staff absence? They all have tough-talking attendance policies. However, unless a teacher is off for weeks every year, they seldom seem to have any teeth. Perhaps middle managers should lobby their headteachers for a change of strategy on teacher absence.

I wonder how many schools offer a "duvet day" or equivalent time off for the excellent attenders. Perhaps they could come in late or go home early at a time of year when their teaching load is lighter. This would be practical in secondary schools where exam invigilation is a thing of the past. My current school has fought shy of this suggestion, pointing out that it would be rewarding some people for simply doing what is expected of them anyway.

Whatever a school's overall policies on staff attendance, middle managers are often the key players in providing the team spirit and support that can help reduce the overall staff stress levels that contribute to absence.

The bottom line remains obvious. If teachers are feeling off colour, they are more likely to come into work when they have three good classes to teach than on a day when they have to face a series of unruly lessons and feel isolated and unsupported by their line managers.

Paul Blum, Deputy head at a north London comprehensive school.

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