Absence Cover

One of the things that can exasperate parents is staff absence. We have had a little staff absence to deal with this week even though it is the first week of term. With fifty six members of staff it is unsurprising that some colleagues will be out of school in any one week. This week we have had colleagues undertaking training prior to their classes starting swimming lessons next week; developing Governing Body Clerking skills; attending a family funeral; keeping a hospital consultant appointment (in a part-time hospital department); continuing their maternity leave and being off sick. All of these are totally justifiable and unavoidable. (They add up to around 9.75 days, or 4% of working days this week. Pupil absence this week was around 4% as well.) On the plus side we saw part-time staff in school on days they do not work, to get set up for their own start of term.

We do have to accept that no-one wants to be ill, incapacitated or absent due to resolving some family crisis. And absence does, pretty much, have to be authorised, just as it mostly must be when pupils are absent.

We apply the same levels of justification for both – a pupil’s absence due to illness will be authorised, and so will that of a member of staff. The difference is most marked in the detail provided as guidance to Headteachers for the two groups – we have a full HR Model Policy for staff leave of absence whereas the Government simply said that Headteachers have discretion around authorising pupil Leave. I try to maintain a similar set of criteria and grant leave for the same reasons and durations.

We have, alongside the policies on granting Leave of Absence, parallel policies on managing attendance. Pupil absence can lead to Attendance Service (part of MAST) intervention. Staff absence can lead to discipline or capability proceedings. Both are formal proceedings and both have trigger absence levels.

While I am writing this. Radio 2 is playing ‘We’re in the Money’, which school certainly isn’t. Yet the financial cost of cover is not the first priority in making decisions about covering staff absence; quality and continuity are our top considerations. There are many cheap options we simply rejected a long time ago and do not even consider seriously, such as splitting classes, using teaching assistants to stand in for teachers, removing teachers’ entitlements to release, study leave, only engaging the cheapest possible supply staff, never training in school time, refusing all staff absence, misusing student teachers on placement and leaving them without supervision.

Instead, we make use of regular, trusted, supply staff who know the school and the children well, or our own staff who may be willing to work additional hours on top of their part-time contracts. The children will recognise these occasional supply staff as school staff because we use only a core few to meet the vast majority of our needs. We aim to make this seamless, whether we know about an absence well in advance (something like a professional development opportunity) or that same morning (something like staff illness). I believe we do a really good job of this.

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