The Telegraph in the UK reports that 56% of teachers in English state schools were signed off with illness at some point during the 2010/11 school year. This represents a rise from the still astonishingly high figure of 52% the previous year. The absences mark a significant expense for the taxpayer who has to cover the millions of pounds cost each year to provide supply teachers to cover the absent staff.
Union leaders are however defending their members and cite a recent report from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers that found 75% of their members the stress of the job had had a negative impact on their health.
Mary Bousted, general secretary, said: "The demands and pressures on those working in schools and colleges is escalating. It is not surprising that so many teachers and lecturers are considering leaving the profession."
According to figures from the Department of Education, teachers who took advantage of sick leave rules missed an average of 8.2 days each – out of a 190 day working year.
Among the causes of their stress cited by teachers are: rising workloads; stress related to official inspections; and pupil behaviour. Also causing recent stress to teachers is the threat to the six-week long summer holiday. Nottingham City Council wants to revamp the school year to modernize the current archaic system. This would involve having five terms instead of the current three and slashing the summer holiday break to a mere four weeks.
Christine Blower, general secretary for the National Union of Teachers, denied this would help the pupils in any way:
Staff "refute the misconception that more teaching automatically leads to more learning"
The latest concerns are consistent with a troubled period in UK education where attempts at reforms are continually blocked by teaching unions and teacher's strikes are occurring two or three times a year, mainly over changes to pension arrangements.
Discontent isn't confined to rank and file teachers; the Asssociation of School and College recently claimed that 37% of the UK's head teachers were planning to resign as a direct consequence of education reforms within the country, and that a further 54% were still considering resignation.
Problems with discontented teachers and high absence rates aren't confined to the UK however; Fort Worth school district in Texas recently admitted that they were unable to provide substitute cover for 15% of teacher absences.