Teachers taking fewer sick leave days than five years ago

INTO says roughly half of teachers on long-term sick leave dealing with cancer

In 2012/2013, teachers were off for 440,572 days on sick leave. This decreased to 408,875 days last year. Photograph: David Sleator

In 2012/2013, teachers were off for 440,572 days on sick leave. This decreased to 408,875 days last year. Photograph: David Sleator

 

The cost of teachers’ sick leave has dropped over the past five years, according to new figures.

The fall in the number of sick days taken by teachers is set out in figures released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

In 2012/2013, teachers were off for 440,572 days on sick leave. This decreased to 408,875 days last year.

Primary teachers needed an average of five days’ absence from schools because of illness last year. The vast majority of leave time is taken as “certified” leave, with self-certified leave amounting to about one-tenth of certified leave.

New sick-leave arrangements were implemented across the public sector in 2014.

Currently, teachers are entitled to seven days’ paid self-certified sick leave over a two-year rolling period. This was previously classified as uncertified sick leave.

Self-certified sick leave is subject to certain criteria and is included when calculating entitlements to ordinary illness leave and critical illness leave.

A spokesman for the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said its casework files indicated that roughly half of teachers on long-term sick leave are dealing with cancer diagnosis, treatment or recovery.

“One reason for a reduction in sick-leave costs is the unavailability of substitute teachers in the past two years. Thousands of absences have been covered by colleagues by splitting classes up when a teacher is sick.

“This is placing a significant strain on schools and teachers and requires action from the Minister for Education. Panels of supply teachers need to be established to ensure that all children are taught by a fully qualified teacher.”

Classroom teaching

Teachers’ sick-leave entitlements have been greatly reduced in recent years. There is no substitute cover for the first day of self-certified sick leave. The INTO said this means other teachers provide supervision in already overcrowded classrooms, which impacts negatively on classroom teaching.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) union echoed the INTO sentiments in relation to sick days. It said a significant amount of the days recorded would be taken by teachers on long-term sick leave.

ASTI commented: “According to the HSE, schools are ideal environments for the spread of infectious diseases due to the large numbers of children attending them every day.

“It’s interesting that the total number of sick-leave days has decreased since 2013, given that there were actually more teachers in the system in 2016. The increase in teachers is due to the [fact] . . . the number of students entering second-level has increased significantly in recent years (second-level schools are now catering for approximately 15,000 additional students since 2014),” said the ASTI spokeswoman.

Sick-leave arrangements

The Public Service Sick Leave Scheme (PSSLS) was introduced in March 2014 in the majority of sectors in the public service and in September 2014 in the education sector. The PSSLS standardised paid sick-leave arrangements across the public service.

The Department of Education said a number of new features were introduced into the education sector, including half-pay, temporary rehabilitation remuneration and critical illness provisions as well as transitional arrangements for both pregnancy-related sick leave and serious illness occurring prior to the introduction of PSSLS.

“This would be the likely basis for a decrease in sick-leave costs in the education sector. A review of the operation of PSSLS which is chaired by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is ongoing. The objective is to evaluate the scheme’s effectiveness and address any operational issues,” the department said.