Long sick leave on rise

7th September 2007 at 01:00
Union calls for review of workload deal as absence continues

A REVIEW of the workload agreement intended to ease the burden of teachers was called for this week after it emerged that long-term sickness is still a huge problem in the profession.

David Evans, secretary of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said new figures released by the Assembly government cast doubt over the aims of the agreement, which the union refused to sign up to in 2003.

Meanwhile other classroom unions say that recent changes in UK-wide pension law are likely to spark a hike in long-term sickness figures to pre-workload agreement levels.

The figures show that the average number of sick days taken by teachers in 2006 was 12. But of the 200,434 days taken by full-time teachers, 93,241 were more than 20 days. This compares with 40,596 of 6 to 20 days and 66,597 of five days or less.

"A lot of sickness absence, particularly long term, is still stress-related and that could be linked to workload issues," said Mr Evans.

"The agreement was meant to address this but it hasn't worked and we need to look at it again."

The deal came on stream in September 2003. It included the delegation of 24 non-teaching tasks and a clause aimed at improving work-life balance.

The government provided pound;33 million in the 2004-5 budget for new contractual moves which gave teachers a minimum of 10 per cent guaranteed time in schools for planning, preparation and assessment.

In 2003, the number of teachers taking long-term sick leave of more than 20 days stood at 105,153. Since then the numbers have fallen year on year. However, education unions say it is still too high.

Welsh-medium education union UCAC says that higher levels of long-term sickness leave this year were expected after changes to pension law by Westminster in January. These made it harder for teachers to retire because of illness.

Geraint Davies, the NASUWT Cymru secretary, said: "In the past, teachers with long-term illnesses had to retire but now that is almost impossible to do.

"We are happy with the agreement but there are now far too many teachers in post in a poor state of health."

But unions representing heads claim school leaders have suffered most, with many having to cover for staff on PPA time.

The Assembly government is making pound;100,000 available in 20078 for the Teacher Support Cymru bilingual phone helpline.

A spokesperson for the service said: "The Assembly plays a full part in monitoring the workload agreement."

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