31 Jan 2023

How schools can manage high absenteeism during winter

At the end of last year school staff absences were twice the pre-Covid levels, with data from Arbor Education showing a surge in flu and other winter illnesses caused sickness absences to rise by 110% between the autumn terms in 2019 and 2022[i].

With temperatures falling across the UK, which can increase winter illnesses due to lack of indoor ventilation, as well as planned strike action[ii] by some teaching unions in February and March many schools could find they struggle to cover lessons.

Monitoring and accurately tracking absence is even more vital says Adrian Lewis, Director at Activ People HR as the knock on effect of planned strike action could leave schools short staffed.

Adrian says: “Schools and academies will be feeling the pressures as disruption from the strikes along with staff illness could force some head teachers to close the school on strike days if they don’t have enough staff. Even if they don’t close, ensuring the school is adequately staffed will be challenging.

“Schools need a robust system that can provide an accurate overview of who is off sick at the touch of a button, rather than relying on paper-based systems, spreadsheets and emails, which is leading some schools to invest in HR technology to improve how they record absence.

“Absence management software enables school managers to have real-time visibility over their workforce so they know instantly who is off sick. It removes administration headaches and can be used to plan and track planned and unplanned absence, including holidays, study leave, medical leave and paternity leave.

“It also prompts return to work interviews and ensures staff are fit to return to work by having them complete a self-certification form. By going digital, schools can better manage all absences including sick leave this winter, making planning ahead and ensuring they have having the right cover in place much easier.”

One school that had found it hard to keep timely and accurate absence records is Chadwell Primary School in Essex who previously recorded staff absences in Excel spreadsheets until they invested in absence management software in 2018.

They had found it particularly challenging dealing with unplanned sickness absences, and, like many schools did not have budget pay for supply teachers to cover lessons when absences arose. The school’s goal was to better manage absence to ensure pupils, staff and the financial position of the school did not suffer.

Annie O’Kane, School Business Manager at the school said the system has saved the school time and money. Annie spends less time chasing staff to complete documentation and management of un-notified absences, and less time on administration as the workload is shared between the school leadership team.

Other benefits include the analysis functions, which enables the school to track absence patterns per individual, team and department and provide a detailed scrutiny of cost where extra cover has been necessary.

Annie says, “We are also seeing a reduction in the small and repetitive absences because staff can see the impact of their absence. The Bradford Factor tool makes individuals fully aware of their absence levels.

“This system is visible to everyone so staff are more conscious they will be ‘managed’ under the Sickness Policy because management can see the trends, triggers and levels of absence for every employee with just a few clicks.”

For more information on Activ People HR visit: www.activpeoplehr.co.uk.

[i] https://schoolsweek.co.uk/staff-absences-at-twice-pre-covid-levels-as-winter-illnesses-take-their-toll/

[ii] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-64265029