Staff absence is a common challenge schools face, and surprisingly, a substantial portion of these absences, between a third and half, according to research, are unrelated to sickness. To address this issue, school leaders must adopt effective measures for comprehensive absence management. While a certain amount of flexibility will be reciprocal, robust absence management improves attendance levels and contributes to the overall efficiency and well-being of a school and its pupils.
Drawing from over 33 years of experience in the field of education HR, our expert Nicki Harris, HR Policy and Resources Manager here at Juniper Education has provided five valuable top tips for effective absence management. However, before we delve deeper, let's look at the potential impact of staff absenteeism on pupils.
The Possible Impact on Pupils
The repercussions of staff absenteeism can significantly affect pupils in various aspects of their academic experience. When educators are absent, pupils may face disruptions in the continuity of their learning, leading to gaps in understanding and knowledge. This absence can hinder the overall classroom dynamics, as substitute teachers may not have the same level of familiarity with the curriculum or teaching style. Moreover, a consistent pattern of staff absenteeism can undermine the establishment of a stable and supportive learning environment, potentially affecting pupils' motivation, engagement, and overall academic performance. Addressing and mitigating the impact of staff absenteeism is crucial to ensure a conducive and effective learning atmosphere for pupils.
Top Tips from our HR Expert
Having identified the potential impacts, we’ll now explore some strategies, as suggested by Nicki, for resolving staff absence issues through policies and procedures.
1. Policy Development
An up-to-date absence policy is the cornerstone of effective management. This policy should clearly outline statutory, contractual, and discretionary leave entitlements. Specify whether the leave is with or without pay and any specific conditions or limits. Clearly articulate the consequences of not maintaining reasonable attendance and outline the repercussions of unauthorised absences. It's crucial to ensure that all staff members know this policy and understand its significance.
2. Procedures for Reporting and Requesting Leave
Clear procedures for reporting sickness and requesting other types of leave are essential. Encourage verbal reporting of sickness whenever possible, as this allows for immediate communication and clarification. For other leave, a written request in advance, stating the reason, ensures transparency and proper documentation. Develop procedures for considering leave requests, including an appeals process, and establish guidelines for addressing absences that are deemed unreasonable or unsustainable.
3. Accurate Record-Keeping
Maintain meticulous records of all absences through people management software, categorising sickness using NHS or ONS categories and specifying the reasons for other types of absences. It's not enough to merely record whether an absence is paid or unpaid; delve deeper into the hidden costs associated with all absences. This detailed record-keeping provides valuable insights into the nature and frequency of absences, facilitating informed decision-making.
4. Regular Monitoring and Reporting
Regularly review and report on leave of absence by reason for individuals, groups of staff, and overall school metrics. This proactive approach identifies high levels of absence and emerging trends. By pinpointing areas of concern, employers can address issues promptly, contributing to a healthier workplace environment.
5. Strategic Action Plans
Take strategic action to address absence trends across staff groups. This may involve initiatives to promote employee well-being or mental health. Additionally, address individual absence levels that are excessive or unsustainable. Provide appropriate support, make reasonable adjustments where necessary, set expectations, and consider formal action when alternatives or improvements are not achieved. This comprehensive approach ensures that schools actively create a culture of accountability and support.
Reduce Staff Absence in Your School
Effective absence management is a practical necessity for schools and a strategic imperative. By implementing the top tips outlined above, school leaders can establish a robust framework for managing staff absences, contributing to improved attendance, enhanced well-being, and overall school success.
To delve deeper into this important issue affecting schools, join our Managing Staff Absences training course and invest in creating a school environment where both staff and pupils thrive.
Or reach out to our team of education HR experts and book a free demo to discover how we can help you with your school staff management.