The latest teacher absence figures for England contain both good and bad news for the Government.
Although the proportion of teachers who took sick leave in 2002 was the highest for four years, they were absent for fewer days. Last year, 57 per cent of teachers took at least a day off sick, compared with 55 per cent in 2001. But the average number of days that absentees were out of school fell from 10 to 9.3.
This year, there were interesting regional differences. Only 49 per cent of teachers in the South-east took sick leave, compared with 61 per cent in the Yorkshire and Humber region. And in London, where staff tend to be younger, each sick teacher was off for eight days on average - two-and-a-half days fewer than in the North-east.
Ther was also more long-term sickness in the North. Just over half of the North-east's absentees were out of school for more than 20 days but in London only a third were.
In total, nearly 2.75 million days were lost to teacher sickness in 2002.
That is costing the education service a small fortune. Even if only 10 per cent of these days were covered by supply teachers, the bill for sicknesss would amount to almost pound;50 million.
With a teaching force dominated by the over-45s, it is unrealistic to believe that these figures can be significantly reduced next year. Older workers are more prone to accidents and illness. However, as the percentage of younger teachers rises over the next few years, this is one bill that may start falling.
John Howson is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University and a director of Education Data Surveys