Aiming for a healthier budget

19th September 1997 at 01:00
Cash-strapped Glasgow City Council has set up stringent new sick leave + regulations in a bid to stem the #163;3.3 million a year it spends on cover + from supply teachers. Edinburgh and other small authorities are likely to + follow suit.Figures suggest that at a varying rate of 3.5 to 5. 5 per cent, + depending on the time of year, the sick leave of Glasgow's 5,700 teachers is + not outrageous. But it is difficult to establish an accurate picture as the + council says it is unable to provide an annual average. Neither the Convention + of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) nor the Scottish Office has figures to + supply a national average, although the latter says that a snapshot picture + produced from local authority returns to them in September last year indicates + 174 primary teachers on extended sick leave, 185 secondary and 28 in special + schools. But not all authorities submitted returns.Stress is an important + factor in boosting teachers' sick leave - and the high number of young children+ means schools are also warehouses of different bugs and infections.Glasgow + officials are hoping that most teachers will privately welcome the new + regulations - making them able to ride strong objections from the unions who + are worried that headteachers might abuse their new powers and victimise some + of their members. Glasgow councillors unilaterally imposed the new policy in + June, when three months of discussions failed to produce an agreement with the + Educational Institute of Scotland.One teacher, who asked not to be named, told + The TESS of a colleague thought to be running a business from home while still + on the staff pay roll. With the cost of a supply teacher also denting the + budget, he is angry that the supposedly ill absentee plays a part in diverting+ resources away from kids and teaching.A second teacher, who also asked not to + be identified, stressed that only a small minority abused the system - but is + glad they will now be monitored more closely. "I was appalled by one or two + people who did seem able to get away with it. At the drop of a hat they would + be off. The previous policy wasn't tight enough."One headteacher, however, had + more sympathy for teachers who take odd days off: "An erratic pattern is + indicative of a teacher not coping. A commonly held view is that a day off acts+ as a safety valve."A perfect record of attendance doesn't mean that someone + has never been ill, just that they have stronger resolve and can cope better + with a cold or feeling a wee bit low."November, the one month in the school + year when there is no holiday, is notoriously the peak month for deputy heads + handing out "Please take" slips of paper first thing in the morning to the + colleagues of absentees. Depute director of education George Gardner says the + few teachers who abuse sick leave can have a major effect, especially in a + primary school. He rejected union claims that staff could be intimidated into + coming into work while ill. "We don't plan to take teachers out of their sick + beds or expect headteachers to be cavalier with the health of their staff. + People who have genuine reasons to be off have got nothing to worry about."The + Glasgow branch of the EIS has issued a questionnaire to its representatives to + monitor the impact of the new policy. It advises members "to be alert to any + attempt to create a climate whereby whole staffs may be pressurised into not + taking legitimate sick leave or individuals are bullied and harrassed. "They + want to know how many staff are summoned to the headteacher for interviews + after short and long-term absence and how many are referred on to the director + of education. They also want teachers' views on how sensitively the new policy + is operated and whether it creates extra stress.Glasgow EIS secretary Willie + Hart says his union will challenge the new regulations in industrial tribunals.+ "We are not in the business of encouraging absenteeism but we're not in the + business either of agreeing to unreasonable demands."Describing the new policy + as "draconian", he lambasted the council for introducing the measure when staff+ are already facing the biggest staffing cuts for 20 years. "There may be + tension between staff and management if there is very harsh treatment of + individuals."Calling on the council to stick with the sickness regulations the + EIS had agreed with the old Strathclyde region, Mr Hart says he hopes that + headteachers will have "the professional good sense" not to operate to the + letter of the new ruling.

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