Employers get tough with absent teachers;News;News amp; Opinion

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
Chris Bunting on moves to tighten up on staff who take suspicious amounts of time off

TEACHERS whose patterns of absence arouse suspicion should be investigated, schools have been advised.

Headteachers should start formal absence procedures if a member of staff misses work without a medical note three times in one term or if their pattern of absence, such as regularly skipping Mondays or Fridays, arouses suspicion.

All schools should prepare sickness procedures drawing a distinction between "genuine sickness and suspect absence", says guidance from the National Employers' Organisation for School Teachers.

The employers' report, "Monitoring and Management of Sickness", claims that cutting absence among teachers is critical to raising educational standards.

With the Government setting a target for all public-sector organisations to reduce levels of absence due to sickness by 20 per cent by 2001 and by 30 per cent by 2003, the employers' advice is likely to be widely implemented.

"The headteacher should recognise that the absences may be for unconnected reasons, some of which may be suspect," the authors say.

Absentee teachers may be sent for counselling or referred to occupational health services. They may also face disciplinary, long-term illness and capability procedures and could jeopardise their jobs.

The absence rate for teachers in 1998 was 3.64 per cent of contracted time compared to 4.1 per cent within the public sector overall.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the general tone of the guidance was acceptable. The report accepted the importance of consulting teachers and their unions and talked about the need for schools to acknowledge their duty to look after employees' health.

"But I would question the motives behind all this. If they are just tightening up on absence, without properly looking at the reasons for it, this could blow up in their faces," said Mr de Gruchy.

Document of the week, 24

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