Plant panacea

29th September 2000 at 01:00
EDUCATION ministers have a comprehensive range of sensible, if predictable, tactics for reducing teacher absenteeism. But newly-published Norwegian research suggests that the problem is best tackled by introducing a few aspidistras to the classroom. More plants means fewer airborne toxins. Voila! The ailments disappear.

If only it were that simple. Teacher unions point out, justifiably, that classrooms are ideal breeding grounds for bugs and that their members shoulder workloads that would exhaust even a nandrolone-fuelled athlete.

However, the Cambridge research showing that staff absence is much higher in state schools than in the independent ector demands close attention. Are job stresses much greater in state schools? Or do independent schools manage to discourage absenteeism by applying more pressure and support? State schools will scoff at that suggestion and point to private schools' multiple advantages and superior working conditions. But the research indicates that while independent school heads do offer more support for their staff, they also insist that job candidates have satisfactory sickness records. Provided the problem is tackled in that order - and the garden centre delivers some house plants - neither state teachers nor their unions should have grounds for complaint.

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