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Sick leave's up and downs

SHORT-TERM sick leave of five days or fewer taken by full-time teachers increased sharply in 2006, new Assembly government figures reveal. However, since 2001, the number of recorded sick days by full-time teachers has plummeted by 7,794.

By contrast, sickness days taken by part-timers have ballooned by 8,321 over the same period. Teachers took an average of 12 days off sick in 2006, with 63 per cent of teachers taking sick leave - up 56 per cent on 2005.

The teaching force in Wales's nursery, primary and secondary schools took an extra 8,428 days over the year. But the figures, from local authority records, present a confusing picture, with long-term sick leave of more than 20 days by full-time teachers down by 2,000 days within the 12 months.

Higher sickness levels also accompany a sharp drop of 583 qualified teachers in Wales's schools from January 2005. The number of school staff overall has also decreased.

Job vacancies at primary schools have almost doubled, hinting that extra pressure caused by staffing shortages could be to blame. Initiative overload, a lack of staff, inspections, as well as the common cold, were all said to have played their part in sickness levels by education unions this week.

But Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru's education spokesperson, said parents and education professionals needed to know exactly why sick days were so high for 2006. Higher levels of sick days taken by part-time teachers also needed investigating.

Tory education spokesperson, Alun Cairns, said: "The fact that almost two out of three teachers in Wales were off sick at some point in 2006 cannot be good for children's education."

* There were 140 fewer children in Wales with statements, legally binding documents setting out additional needs in the classroom, in 2006 compared with 2005, according to another set of Assembly government figures published last week.

In 2006, 15,579 pupils had statements compared with 17,154 seven years ago.

The highest number of statements awarded by a local authority was Cardiff, the lowest Caerphilly.

Ceredigion, Swansea, Bridgend, Vale of Glamorgan, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport all bucked the trend by increasing statements in 2006. Just over half of the children were taught in ordinary classes in mainstream schools, with just over a fifth in special classes.

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