NUT CYMRU says the new Education Minister will need to put teacher’s workload at the very top of her to do list after figures obtained via freedom of information requests show stress related illne sses continue to blight the profession.
The union claims that research it carried out has discovered 51,795 days were lost to stress related illnesses last year, an increase of 2,568 on 2014.
NUT Cymru Secretary, David Evans, said:
“Workload induced stress amongst teachers is seemingly getting worse in Wales. The new Minister will of course want to get to grips with some of the big policy issues such as the curriculum and professional development but the stark reality is that unless we deal with this concern the success of all other initiatives is put at risk. We can’t continually expect the teaching profession to deliver record breaking results when we are seeing record breaking levels of mental ill-health problems due to the pressures they are being placed under.
“It is important to recognise that the last Welsh Government acknowledged this problem and indeed tasked pioneer schools with the responsibility of factoring it into their work on the curriculum. The new Minister will need to examine what solution may potentially come out of that work. Having written to the Minister with this data, we know of her commitment to this issue. We are also grateful that she is exploring how reducing class sizes can play a role in reducing the workload burden on the profession. We are looking forward to discussing further with the Minister how we can work with her in supporting any and all initiatives designed to reduce stress on staff.”
David Evans added: “When you consider the financial implications of not getting to grips with this problem, it is staggering. In the four years since 2012, 202,314 days that have been lost to schools due to stress related illnesses over the past four years works out at around the equivalent of £34.4m for supply cover. This is all at a time where school budgets are at breaking point. As things stand, we are bordering on a crisis in the profession.”
The Union’s data came from a Freedom of Information request send to each off Wales’s local authorities.
While the largest number of sick days was reported in Cardiff, the largest increase in days lost to sickness was in the ERW region, which covers the whole of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, and Pembrokeshire, as well as Neath Port Talbot.
Welsh Government guidance on workforce attendance published in 2015, sets out the responsibilities of school leaders and governors in encouraging staff to maximise their attendance at work, as well as ensuring that all teachers have access to the appropriate levels of support. That guidance is due to be refreshed in September 2016 and will reemphasise the responsibilities on schools, local authorities and consortia on collecting, reporting and analysing detailed absence data.
A Welsh Government spokesperson told The Herald: “We agree it is important our teachers are not overburdened. There are a range of statutory provisions in force which aim to ensure teachers have a suitable work/ life balance and maintain their health and safety. These include supporting teachers who are absent through extended illness to get back to work.
“All teachers, through their local authorities, have access to employee assistance programmes and we will continue to work with local authorities, regional consortia and Governors Wales to raise awareness of these support programmes to encourage their use by teachers across Wales.”
The Welsh Government is also developing an all-Wales management of attendance policy based on the good practice that currently exists Welsh schools.