How to Manage Staff Absenteeism in Schools

A YOU.GOV school workforce report revealed a staggering 67.5% of teachers took sickness absences in the 2021/22 academic year. Explore the rising issue of staff absenteeism in schools and its impact in this blog post, written by a school scrutiny expert. Learn practical strategies to reduce absenteeism in schools, academies, and trusts.


According to a YOU.GOV school workforce report published in 2023, the 2021/22 academic year witnessed a considerable surge in teacher absenteeism. A staggering 67.5% of teachers took sickness absence during this period, averaging 9.3 days of sickness for each affected teacher. Notably, these figures exclusively pertain to sickness absence and do not include non-attendance instances related to factors such as isolation and shielding due to COVID-19 or reasons like maternity leave and career breaks.  

This surge in absenteeism marks a significant increase from the 2014/15 academic year, where 55.7% of teachers took sick leave, averaging 4.2 days per teacher. The escalating trend in teacher absenteeism highlights the need to investigate the root causes, understand its implications for schools, and determine effective strategies for improvement. Our blog, written by education HR expert Carly Quick-Crockford, does just that - join us as we aim to shed light on this escalating trend, starting with six ways staff absenteeism might negatively affect schools.  

Six consequences of staff absenteeism in schools 

1. Disruption to learning

Frequent teacher absenteeism disrupts the learning process for pupils, resulting in missed lessons, academic setbacks, and increased stress. The disruption extends beyond academic challenges, impacting the overall classroom dynamics and the emotional well-being of students. The absence of a consistent guiding figure creates a void that hinders establishing a cohesive and supportive learning environment.

2. Classroom chaos 

Schools often struggle to find suitable replacements for absent teachers, leading to combined classes or sometimes inexperienced substitute teachers. This situation can turn the classroom into a chaotic environment, hindering the learning experience.

3. Burdening colleagues 

When teachers step in for their absent colleagues, it poses challenges amid their existing responsibilities. Balancing their regular tasks with additional duties strains their workload. This added pressure often leads to delayed grading and lesson planning, contributing to heightened stress and potential burnout. The impact on covering teachers exacerbates the broader effects of absenteeism, affecting the well-being of the teaching staff.

4. Financial implications

The financial impact is significant. Schools incur additional costs when substitutes need to be paid; in some cases, extra staff must be hired. This diverts resources from other essential areas like sports equipment, new books, or technology. 

5. Impact on school administration

Staff absenteeism may disrupt school planning and scheduling, making it challenging for administrators to keep things running smoothly. It may also mean more work for administrators who must talk to parents about staff absences. This extra workload can result in slower responses to enquiries inquiries, affecting how well the school communicates.  

6. The inability to meet deadlines 

Staff absenteeism in schools can lead to the challenge of meeting deadlines due to disrupted workflows and the need for additional time to compensate for absent team members. 

Reasons for persistent staff absences 

Staff absences are sometimes inevitable, and here are some reasons why they may need to take time off during the term. 

Health issues 

Be it short-term or long-term, sudden illnesses or chronic conditions can necessitate leave for teachers and staff members. 

Burnout and stress 

The demanding nature of the education profession may lead to burnout, prompting staff to take frequent absences as a coping mechanism and a chance to rest and recuperate mentally.  

Family responsibilities 

Responsibilities like childcare or eldercare contribute to persistent absenteeism among staff members. 

Workplace environment 

An unhealthy or unsupportive work environment, lack of motivation, poor colleague relationships, or inadequate resources may lead to frequent time off. 

Lack of work-life balance 

Working late into the night, starting early, and dedicating weekends to work can contribute to challenges in achieving a work-life balance, potentially resulting in a need for increased time off. 

Inadequate compensation 

Low salaries or inadequate sick leave may demotivate staff members, leading to increased absenteeism. 

Unsatisfactory job roles 

Lack of job satisfaction or a mismatch between job roles and staff skills can contribute to staff missing work. To mitigate this, leveraging readily available job description templates for senior roles can be a good option to facilitate staff onboarding.

Workplace policies 

Inflexible workplace policies or a lack of supportive measures like flexible scheduling can contribute to persistent staff absenteeism. 

Lack of recognition 

Feeling undervalued or unrecognised for contributions can result in decreased morale and increased absenteeism. 

Strategies to tackle staff absences 

In dealing with staff absenteeism, implementing effective strategies is vital for a thriving educational environment. The focus should be on tackling (where possible) the root causes and not just throwing the book at people. Prioritising the well-being of staff is paramount, serving as the foundation for the entire educational community. 

We will now explore practical measures to address frequent staff absences. These strategies aim to create a supportive and positive workplace culture, from wellness initiatives to flexible work arrangements.  

Internal audit 

To identify the specific reasons behind your staff absences, start with an internal audit. Your auditor will complete a systematic review of attendance records, surveys, and workplace conditions to identify the root causes of persistent absences. By analysing workload, culture, and professional development, the audit report will provide unbiased insights, allowing you to make informed decisions with a data-driven approach. This proactive method not only diagnoses issues, but also promotes a culture of accountability and transparency, paving the way for a healthier workplace and reducing absenteeism.

Open two-way communication 

Encouraging open communication through free-flowing conversations and open-door policies is a key strategy to combat staff absenteeism in schools. Helping staff to engage in open dialogues enables a better understanding of the reasons behind absences, facilitating proactive solutions. This approach builds trust and establishes a positive and communicative work culture. 

Wellness programmes  

Implementing wellness programs is key to reducing absenteeism among staff. For instance, offering fitness sessions tailored to teachers’ schedules, whether on-site or virtually, promotes physical health and resilience to stress. Additionally, mental health support through workshops and counselling services contributes to a positive work environment, ultimately decreasing the likelihood of staff needing time off due to health-related issues. 

Professional development support 

Providing ongoing professional development opportunities within the school setting is a means to fulfil staff members’ career growth requirements without necessitating prolonged leave. This approach not only communicates value for their role but also enhances motivation through the acquisition of new skills. 

Flexible work arrangements 

Providing flexible work arrangements, such as remote working or flexible scheduling, can enhance work-life balance, improve staff well-being, and reduce staff absenteeism. 

Rewards and recognition  

Recognising and rewarding staff for their contributions creates a positive work environment, motivating them to stay engaged and reducing absenteeism. 

Addressing workplace issues 

Taking proactive steps to tackle workplace issues can enhance the overall satisfaction of the work environment. Issues may stem from other colleagues or workplace culture. A staff member’s dissatisfaction may also stem from their role or specific aspects of it. Therefore, engaging in open discussions to identify underlying workplace issues is a constructive approach before exploring potential solutions. 


Persistent staff absenteeism is a complex issue with far-reaching consequences. Schools can create a supportive environment for staff by addressing underlying causes and implementing targeted strategies, focusing on their well-being as the ultimate goal. This, in turn, positively impacts colleagues, the school administration, pupils, and parents.  

Are you worried you are at risk of high staff absenteeism? 

"I have a staff absenteeism problem in my school/trust."

Get in touch with our internal scrutiny team. We conduct audits for schools and trusts across the country to identify the underlying reasons behind their staff absences. You will receive a detailed diagnostic report to allow for informed decisions and targeted intervention.

"I might have a small staff absenteeism problem, but I'm not sure."

Don't wait for the issue to escalate. Start with our beginner-friendly CPD course on managing staff absences, led by our education HR experts with decades of experience. You will gain a better understanding of why staff take different types of absences (sickness and non-sickness), as well as policies and strategies that actually work.

"I'm just looking for general guidance around staff absences."

Download our school HR policies and procedures guide for a comprehensive blueprint to create a healthy work environment in your school.

You can also sign up to our HR advice line and speak to a school HR expert at any time by phone or email about your routine absence and other HR queries.