SPECIAL INVESTIGATION - More than 22,000 teaching days lost in Derbyshire schools due to staff sickness

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More than 22,000 teaching days have been lost in Derbyshire over the past six years due to teachers calling in sick, new figures by education chiefs have revealed.

Of these almost 30 per cent - around 6,200 days - were lost due to stress and related conditions.

According to the figures, provided by Derbyshire County Council following a Freedom of Information request, between 2010 and the end of 2015 a total of 22,259 days were lost due to staff illness, of which 6,221 hours were stress-related.

The figures equate to 19 teachers absent from work each day since January 1, 2010, in Derbyshire alone, of which the equivalent of five full-time teachers are absent each day due to stress.

The statistics only relate to schools run by Derbyshire County Council, or schools that use the authority to provide payroll services.

But teacher unions say the statistics are just the tip of the iceberg, with more schools becoming academies, which are independent from the local authority and not included in the figures.

Deborah Turner, county secretary for Derbyshire at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said: “There is a significant amount of downward pressure on teachers across the country. An exam-factory culture has resulted in unsustainable workload, incessant monitoring and a punitive Ofsted.

“It is unsurprising that many teachers are becoming stressed and burnt-out“It’s unremitting, the pressure that teachers are under due to the volume of work. It’s telling that a lot of teachers are dropping down to part-time hours because they can then meet their working requirements if they unofficially put in a full week.

“Teaching really does take up that much time, so in many ways there is very little work-life balance.

“Three out of five new teachers are leaving the profession within five years of joining .

“It’s incessant, from the moment you step into the classroom the pressure is always there.

“The other problem is that there are now so many routes into the teaching profession that people simply aren’t getting the classroom experience they need.

“All schools should be doing staff audits, so they are monitoring the levels of stress among their teachers and they need to be aware of the pressure that teachers are under.

“But it is downwards pressure - it comes from national government and I see the impact of the current system on a daily basis.

“Most school managers want their schools to be happy places, they want the children to be happy and they want the teachers to be happy.

“At the end of the day, people get stressed because they feel they are not in control, and just one additional pressure on someone can lead to stress.

“Teaching is a bit like a bad marriage - you only stay in it for the children.

“Derbyshire Local Authority work very well with the teaching unions and the schools across the county. The real pressure comes from government policy.”

The figures also put massive strain on the public purse, with schools and authorities not only having to pay the salary of the absent staff members, but also having to pay separately to cover the lessons.

Supply teachers, often employed via specialist agencies, are paid anything from £100 to £150 per day, with the agency charging commission on top.

Some schools instead opt to bring in unqualified cover supervisors at a much lower daily rate, but critics have argued that the practice impacts on the quality of education while the assigned teacher is absent.

Derbyshire County Council’s deputy cabinet member for children’s services Councillor Caitlin Bisknell said: “Derbyshire schools work incredibly hard to ensure the county’s children reach their full potential.

“Our improving attainment figures bear this out. This year, 82 per cent of primary age children at Key Stage 2 reached Level 4 in reading, writing and maths – two per cent above the national average.

“At secondary level, pupils getting five good GCSEs rose by 0.8 per cent - again above the national average.

“And while the day-to-day responsibility for running schools, including staff absences, lies with each school’s governing body, we have a responsibility to work with schools to ensure children receive the best education they can.

She added: “There are lots of reasons why teachers can be off work, and stress may be one of them.

“The reasons for stress are not always work related but teachers are under intense pressure because of changes to the curriculum and methods of assessment.

“Nationally, a large number have left the profession due to pressures from the Government, and many are being put off the profession because of that.

“Derbyshire schools are working hard to improve standards and do everything they can to reduce the impact any absence may have.

“There are more than 3,000 teachers working the equivalent of 600,000 days a year in Derbyshire schools and we are lucky that, despite all the pressures they face, we have dedicated teachers who are committed to making sure that all Derbyshire children achieve their full potential.”

In 2015 it emerged that schools in Derbyshire could be heading for ‘the perfect storm’ with thousands of teaching saying that they are planning on quitting the profession in 2016 and 2017, according to a YouGov poll.

The survey suggested that teachers are working anything up to 60 hours per week, and detailed plummeting morale among staff.

It revealed that 53 per cent of teachers are thinking of quitting in the next couple of years.

The top reasons given were “volume of workload” (61 per cent) and “seeking a better work/life balance” (57 per cent).

Nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) also said that current policies for the school curriculum and pupil assessment are narrow and uncreative.

The problem is also being compounded by a steady rise in pupil numbers, along with a fall in the number of graduates entering the teaching profession.

The government is also resisting calls to increase teacher salaries beyond the proposed one per cent for 2016.

Have you recently quit the teaching profession? Email me - andy.donejohnson@jpress.co.uk.