Colleges cut their senior staff by a third

10th July 2015 at 01:00
Meanwhile, stress-related sick leave is on the rise, survey finds

The number of senior management staff in Scottish colleges has dropped by almost a third in two years, TESS can reveal.

A survey, to which 21 of Scotland's 27 colleges responded, shows that senior management staff numbers in those institutions shrank from 264 in 2012-13 to only 181 in 2014-15.

Streamlining management and bureaucratic structures was one of the main ways in which it was hoped that the regionalisation of the college sector, announced by the government in 2012, would increase efficiency and save money.

All colleges in the TESS survey that were created through merger have reduced the number of senior managers, some by as much as 50 per cent.

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said an inevitable duplication of roles was a consequence of a merger between two or three organisations.

She said: "We would expect there to be a reduction in the number of senior managers now in colleges following the completion of the regionalisation process."

Pushed to breaking

Although the TESS survey sheds light on how the Scottish college sector is coping with the reform process, it also illustrates the consequences of funding cuts.

Figures from 17 of the 21 colleges in the survey show that the number of sick days taken by staff rose by 10 per cent between 2013-14 and 2014-15, from 54,775 to 60,282. Among nonteaching staff, the increase was particularly stark: together they took off 4,522 days, despite a fall in the overall number of staff.

A breakdown of these sick days, supplied to TESS by 15 colleges, shows that 7,517 days of absence were taken on the grounds of stress this year, up from 6,148 in 2013-14. Stress-related sick days rose in 10 of the 15 colleges and fell in five.

At Ayrshire College, which was created through merger two years ago and faced industrial action at one of its campuses this academic year, the number of sick days rose from 5,265.5 to 7,116 overall and stress-related sick days almost doubled.

Jane McKie, vice-principal of human resources and organisational well-being at the college, said: "As an employer we take all issues relating to the health and well-being of our staff very seriously and monitor absence levels and reasons for absence on a weekly basis. We have a positive approach to promoting attendance, ensuring appropriate interventions are made as required, for individuals and the staff community."

Colleges stressed that only a small proportion of the total number of days was directly attributable to work-related stress. Institutions also pointed out that the figures included a number of staff absent on long-term sick leave.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, which represents college lecturers, said the TESS figures corroborated the union's own research.

"The EIS is aware from our own recent survey that workplace stress is on the increase in our colleges," he said. "Spiralling workload demands alongside fewer lecturers and reduced resources create the pressures that lead to the scenario the TESS investigation outlines, with greater staff absence and a lack of well-being in the sector."

He added: "As employers, colleges have a duty of care to staff members, which we would call on them to exercise."

Sickness is `inevitable'

Ms Struthers said that with colleges employing more than 10,000 staff across Scotland, sickness was "an inevitable part of everyday life so we would expect there to be some staff absences as there would be in any workplace".

She added: "Colleges continue to monitor absence rates and sick leave as part of being responsible employers and respond appropriately".

A spokeswoman for the Scottish government said college reform had been "designed to help young people into jobs and develop the skills our economy needs to grow, creating a sector that is more transparent and accountable".

She added: "Recent youth employment levels show we are succeeding in achieving this. In 2013-14, colleges delivered record levels of student retention, successful completion of courses and a 34 per cent increase in students progressing from college to university since 2009-10.

"None of these improvements would have been possible without the efforts of staff and we will continue to work with unions and senior managers to ensure they are supported."

She added that full-time staff numbers had remained broadly stable since 2013.

`Management has mental health training'

At Forth Valley College, which was not involved in the recent merger process, the number of staff sick days has risen slightly.

However, staff took 426 fewer stress-related sick days - 165 this year, compared with 591 in 2013-14. Only 15 of the days were linked to work-related stress.

Steven Still, pictured, head of human resources at the college, says it has introduced "a number of new initiatives over recent years to support employees who are suffering from stress, depression or mental health issues".

One of these is the college's Work Positive policy, which, Mr Still says, "highlights the support that is available from our volunteer advisers, who have undertaken mental health training to support colleagues who require confidential support".

He adds: "In addition, we have introduced individual stress risk assessments, which allow the employee to consider and evaluate the issues and stressors that they have.

"All management posts have also undertaken workplace mental health training."

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