Stress blamed for surge in sick leave

THE number of days teachers, lecturers and support staff take off sick has risen by nearly a quarter this year, but they still have lower absence levels than other public-sector workers.

On average, education workers now take 10 days off ill each year, up from 8.2 days in 2001, according to a survey of 1,312 employers across the private and public sectors.

Teachers' leaders blame the increase on ever-rising demands from the Government. They attacked ministers for failing to cut the paperwork staff have to deal with.

Absences grew across all professions, but not at the same rate, the survey found. The increase for education means that it rises from 12th to ninth in a league table of sickness which ranks 26 occupations.

The table is based on a study of 1.7 million workers by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Sickness rates in the health service are running at 11.2 days a year; in local government, 10.7; in central government, 10.3 and in other public services, 12.5. Across the private sector, the rate was only 8.4 days a year.

John Bangs, assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:

"It is not surprising that sickness levels are up. If you are stressed, any sense of not feeling well is simply magnified.

"The number of demands and requirements placed on teachers has continued to increase. The fact that sickness levels are lower than in other public services just reflects teachers' commitment to their pupils."

The survey's authors also say the overall increase in absentee levels across all jobs, up from 8.7 to 10 days lost for each employee per year, is due to stress. They said that companies facing ever-tougher economic conditions were putting more pressure on their employees.

Diane Sinclair, editor of the survey, said: "The figures for education certainly tie in with anecdotal reports of the pressure that many teachers are coming under.

"All employers, including local education authorities and private schools, should consider offering counselling services to teachers who feel under stress."

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