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Sickness takes a growing toll

The number of teachers in England taking sick leave jumped by 10,000 last year.

The total number of teaching days lost through sickness also rose by more than 110,000 to more than 2.6 million, according to the latest statistics from the Department for Education and Employment.

These show that 56 per cent of teachers were off sick on at least one day last year. In 1999, the first year that figures were collected, 55 per cent of teachers went sick.

The rise in absence rates will be seen as further evidence that teachers' workload is excessive. But the statistics need to be treated with caution as they include DFEE estimates for sickness rates in 23 local education authorities that have provided either no data or incomplete figures.

As might be expected, the national figure is higher for full-time teachers, at 60 per cent, than for part-time teachers - only 38 per cent of whom took sickness absence.

There are also regioal differences. Teacher absence rates fell in most of the North and the Midlands but rose slightly in London and quite sharply in both the South-west and the East of England. The Eastern region also had the highest sickness rate in 2000. More than two out of every three full-time teachers there lost at least one day to sickness.

The South-east had the lowest absence rate. Some 20 per cent of teaching days lost to sickness resulted from short-term absences of five days or less. However, 44 per cent were due to absences of 20 days or more.

As these figures only cover sickness absence, they do not include the days teachers are out of school for training, job interviews or public duties such as jury service. Once these are added, the total of teaching days lost probably rises above 3 million, or just over 3 per cent of available days.

John Howson is managing director of Education Data Surveys. Email

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