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Sick days account for pound;300m every year

Nearly half of England's teachers did not take a single day off sick in 2001. Overall, some 283,600 teachers (56 per cent of the teaching force) had at least one day off sick last year. This was 10,000 more than the previous year, and almost 20,000 more than in 1999.

However, some of the increase may be due to better reporting rather than a real increase in teacher absence. The figures also suggest that those who did have time off took, on average, 10 days' sick leave.

It should be borne in mind that these statistics contain estimates for 25 local education authorities that provided either incomplete or provisional figures. Nevertheless, the regional differences in absence rates are interesting.

London teachers had more short absences, as well as fewer absences of more than 20 days, than teachers elsewhere. On the other hand, more than 50 per cent of teacher absences in the North-east were for more than 20 days.

These longer-term absences accounted for 80,500 of the 150,000 days lost in the region through sickness. Teacher days are, of course, lost for a variety of other reasons such as training courses, job interviews and public duties.

When these days are included, the total number of teaching days lost is probably well over three million. Replacing all these teachers costs more than pound;300 million a year. The cost of the inevitable disruption to children's education is harder to quantify.

Apparently, civil servants in the Department for Education and Skills took off more time in 2000 through sickness than teachers - eight days as opposed to five. A comparison with employees in business and industry, and between headteachers and main-grade teachers, might also prove interesting. Whether sickness figures will increase across the board this year as a result of "World Cup Fever", only time will tell.

John Howson is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University and a director of Education Data Surveys. email:

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