Teachers can avail of 125 different types of leave, spending review finds

Substitution costs about €250m a year in trend linked to demographics and policy change

The report by the Department of Public Expenditure says, in the case of 95 of these type of leave arrangements, substitute staff can be employed by the school to cover either a long- or short-term absence. File photograph: iStock

The report by the Department of Public Expenditure says, in the case of 95 of these type of leave arrangements, substitute staff can be employed by the school to cover either a long- or short-term absence. File photograph: iStock

 

There are approximately 125 different types of leave which can be availed of by teachers, and the cost of providing substitute staff is now about €250 million per year, a new Government spending review has found.

The report released on Friday by the Department of Public Expenditure says, in the case of 95 of these type of leave arrangements, substitute staff can be employed by the school to cover either a long- or short-term absence.

In the 2019/20 academic year roughly 1.6 million absence days were recorded.

The review says that total expenditure on substitution has been growing “quite steadily”, at roughly 10 per cent per year and reached €264 million in 2019. About 92 per cent of this was attributable to teachers, while special needs assistants accounted for a small proportion.

The spending review, which was commissioned in part to identify the drivers behind this increased substitution expenditure, pointed to growing teacher numbers, changes in policy which provided additional leave arrangements, the demographics of the teaching profession and new professional learning requirements.

It says the number of teachers at primary and post-primary level combined has increased from about 60,000 in 2014/15 to about 70,000 in 2019/20 – largely due to growing pupil enrolment.

The higher number of teachers has resulted in an increase in the number of absence days, it notes.

Policy changes

The review says there have also been multiple changes to statutory leave in recent years, most notably the introduction of paternity leave, the extension of parental leave and the introduction of the public service sick-leave scheme. It says these policy changes have also resulted in more absence days.

It maintains the demographics of the teacher population “where there is currently a large number of young female teachers, particularly at primary level, are contributing to increased substitution demand as this is an age where family-related leave is common, for example maternity leave, parental leave etc”.

At primary level, 73 per cent of teachers are aged between 25 and 45 years, and nearly 85 per cent are female.

Teacher professional learning arrangements also result in absence days to deal with issues such as curriculum and assessment reform and continuing professional development, the review says.

Maternity leave accounts for the highest substitution expenditure, with certified illness, parental leave and additional unpaid maternity leave also accounting for a high level, it continues.

The Department of Education said broadly speaking there were seven main categories of leave available to teachers: sick leave, family leave, personal leave, school business, leave of absence to other agencies, continuing professional development and Covid-related.

It said many of the leave sub-types were statutory and available to all employees in the State, especially in the case of family leave sub-types. The categories include forms of both paid and unpaid leave.

Paternity leave

The review says the introduction of paternity leave in 2016 resulted in nearly €5.6 million in substitution expenditure. It says the introduction of the public service sick-leave scheme has resulted in about €43.5 million from 2016 to 2020 in substitution expenditure, from critical illness leave and temporary rehabilitation remuneration leave.

“The introduction of 10 days' paternity leave for fathers has resulted in a total of just under 29,000 substitutable absence days at primary and post-primary level from 2016/17 to 2019/20. Similarly, the introduction of the public service sick-leave scheme resulted in other forms of long-term sick leave, such as critical illness leave and temporary rehabilitation remuneration leave, being available to teachers.”

It adds: “There have been roughly 145,400 substitutable days for temporary rehabilitation remuneration leave and roughly 123,700 substitutable days for critical illness leave since their introduction in 2014/15. More recently, parents leave was introduced in 2019 and extended again in 2021. There were 577 absence days for parents at primary level and 100 absence days at post-primary level in 2019/20, the year it was introduced.”