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Glasgow calls time on sickness

Glasgow headteachers have been warned to get tough on teacher and support staff absence after a hard-hitting report showed "worrying increases during the past three years".

The city's education services committee yesterday (Thursday) was told that formal action will be taken against any head of establishment who does not apply the city's absence management policy.

The report also states that George Black, the council's chief executive, would hold directors of services and their senior staff personally responsible for any failure to implement the policy fully.

Support staff absence increased from 4.6 per cent in January to March 2002 to 5.8 per cent for the first three months of 2005. The rise for teachers was from 3.9 per cent to 4.2 per cent.

While the report by George Gardner, deputy director of education, acknowledged there had been a "significant increase" in the number of formal return to work interviews with staff, Mr Gardner warned: "It is evident that the next steps of issuing cautionary letters about levelsfrequency of absence and thereafter pursuing the matter through the disciplinary procedure are not followed through by managers in education services."

He also cautioned that headteachers were using the "miscellaneous" category excessively when giving reasons for absence, particularly for long-term absence. The term "miscellaneous", it is understood, is intended to cover short-term ailments such as migraines, headaches or toothache - not illnesses lasting more than three weeks.

The council is now carrying out an audit of the capability of members of staff on long-term absence.

"If it is the case that some employees seem unable to fulfil their contract then appropriate steps will be taken to terminate contracts," the report states.

However, Willie Hart, local secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland in the city, complained of a "wholly negative and threatening"

tone in the report.

Mr Hart commented: "We have had no education welfare officer in the biggest education authority in Scotland for more than two years. It used to be a discrete post which people found extremely helpful. The post was held by an experienced counsellor who had been a teacher and therefore understood the dynamics and atmosphere in a school."

In total, 124 support staff and 186 teachers were off sick for between 20 days and three months; 56 support staff and 76 teachers were off for three to six months; 15 support staff and 19 teachers were off for six to nine months; and 10 support staff and six teachers were off for more than a year.

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