Unions decry health toll on teachers

6 Jun 02
Teachers' leaders have blamed rising levels of sickness among classroom staff in England on the increasing pressures they face, and claim they point to a wider problem in the profession.

07 June 2002

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the figures, taken alongside an increase in the number of ill-health retirements, pointed to a mounting crisis in the profession. He urged the government to take urgent action to tackle teachers' 'unacceptable' workloads.

'Any cost of improving teachers' contracts to address excessive workload would be more than offset by the reduction in sickness,' he said.

His comments came after statistics published by the Department for Education and Skills revealed an increase in the number of days teachers were off sick. Its figures show that, on average, each teacher missed six days from school in 2001, compared with five in the previous year.

Graham Lane, chair of the Local Government Association's education executive, said substantial extra funding was needed in next month's Spending Review to reduce teachers' working week.

He told Public Finance that, according to the Employers' Organisation for local education authorities, schools needed an extra £1bn. This would pay for hiring support staff to carry out administrative tasks for teachers, and meet primary school teachers' demand for 10% of the school week to be guaranteed non-contact time, he added.

'We know that extra money is needed, but ministers and civil servants are querying that. There is not a lot of extra money around in schools,' Lane said.

These findings will be set out next month in a formal response to the report from the School Teachers' Review Body on workloads, which was published in May. The employers and teaching unions intend to make a joint submission.

The National Association of Head Teachers, at its annual conference in Torquay on June 5, threatened industrial action because of work pressures caused by funding crises and staff shortages.

An NAHT survey showed that 45% of 1,400 schools fear they will have to cut staffing this year.

General secretary David Hart said the conference would debate whether to take 'some form of industrial action to unilaterally reduce workload'.


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