How to Reduce Teacher Stress and Absence

How can I reduce teacher absence?

Teachers in the UK are more stressed than ever. What are the factors behind this, and how can you manage staff absence?

I have been head teacher at a small secondary school in a semi-rural location for three years. At our most recent Ofsted inspection (2018) we were rated ‘good’ – and I am blessed with a team of dedicated and loyal staff, not to mention great young people with largely supportive families.

However, despite all these factors, staff absence has grown every year since I have been at the helm and is now unacceptably high. Some of it has been unavoidable, with the reasons fully evidenced (emergency operations, for example, and a very distressing bereavement), but there is an increasing trend towards ‘low level sickness’, amongst staff members generally, leading to ‘the odd day’ here and there – which, of course, all add up.

I’m at a loss how to tackle this, without directly accusing good teachers of ‘slacking’, and causing ill will as a result. Do you have any advice?

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Monitoring teacher absence

The majority of schools accept that absence is inevitable, however ensuring that staff absence is kept to a reasonable level and doesn’t impact on the performance of your school is essential.

One of the first steps you should take is to monitor and measure the number of absences and whether these are planned or unplanned and adopt a back to work review that takes place upon return to work, (as soon as is practically possible).

This review should carry out root cause analysis upon each return to work to ascertain the cause of absence and if this is related to a bigger issue such as workplace stress or problems in their personal life. It is important to pick up on this type of absence as soon as possible as this could result in longer periods of absence down the line.

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Reducing teacher stress

If workplace stress is the cause, look at what you can do to alleviate the stress factors for that individual or help them to manage stress through reframing the problems and helping them to see the bigger picture.

Ensure that staff are aware that a review will take place after each absence and that each absence is being recorded and monitored and will be reviewed during appraisals and more frequently if required. Ensure that as part of this process, you analyse absences to identify any issues such as repeat illness or particular patterns of absence.

With pressures to surpass results year on year, whilst keeping up with an ever-changing curriculum, being a teacher isn’t easy. We undertook a survey to find out why and what really stresses teachers; where in the UK teachers are most stressed; and how these figures impact on our education system.

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Why are UK teachers so stressed?

Results showed the high level of stress experienced by teachers can be attributed to a number of factors. The most common reasons identified by our survey showed an emphasis on achieving high exam results, a heavy focus on school performance targets, and the frequency of curriculum changes. 

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What makes UK teachers stressed?

It will come as no surprise to hear that teacher stress increases during certain events throughout the year, most notably around Ofsted inspections. School trips are another source of stress for many teachers. We have some advice on how to reduce stress levels when planning school trips. 

Tips for a stress-free school trip

  • Get your paperwork in order. It may sound obvious, but keep all the documentation relating to risk assessments, insurance, permissions, emergency contact information and external helpers together in one file so you have easy access to everything you need relating to each trip.
  • Make sure you have the correct insurance and legal paperwork in place.
  • Make sure you understand what your school requires of your helpers, parents and children.

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Where in the UK are teachers most stressed?

Classroom stress levels seem to vary across the country. Our survey shows that teachers in the Midlands are particularly stressed, with almost 80% claiming that they’re more stressed today than they were when they started teaching. This figure is followed by teachers in the North West, of whom almost three quarters admitted to finding teaching more stressful now than when they first started.

London is the region with the fewest stressed teachers (70%) which is surprising given how hectic life is in the capital.

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How to reduce teacher stress

To prevent or reduce teacher stress in schools, the symptoms and causes of stress need to be recognised as early as possible. This can be done by empowering teachers to recognise and seek appropriate help or by the school recognising untreated symptoms.

Early diagnosis and action of the problem reduces the risk of additional stress and a long-term absence. In addition, encouraging a healthy environment through healthy eating options, exercise, and good time management can help to improve overall staffroom morale. We would encourage all teachers feeling unduly stressed to seek help internally, and if you can’t do that, contact the Education Support Partnership.

Helen Bernabe, from our Care Division, said:

“It’s very concerning to see the large numbers of teachers who are feeling extremely stressed in their jobs - and what's even more concerning is that the majority of teachers feel more stressed now  than when they started their job. Teachers play an incredibly important role in our society, educating our next generation and we must ensure that they all feel supported, enthused and happy in the profession they are all committed to."

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Managing teacher stress

If necessary offer a phased return to work for a teacher following an absence, particularly if it was caused by stress. This may prevent a reoccurrence caused by coming back too soon.

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Managing teacher workload

One other aspect to consider is the school environment; schools can be a demanding and pressurised environment, and it is important that everyone has a good work-life balance and time to do things that make them happy each day. Keep an eye on individual workloads and ensure that your colleagues are not taking on too much.

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Improving teacher wellbeing

In addition, does your school promote a healthy lifestyle? We all like a biscuit now and then, but many schools provide a fruit bowl in the staff room to encourage healthy eating. Schools are also a great breeding ground for germs; ensure that soap is provided by all the sinks in the school and if necessary invest in anti-bacterial gels to keep the spread of germs to a minimum. 

Also check to see if you have access to an independent wellbeing service to provide counselling and practical support to your staff. This can enable you to support your staff at the times they need it most and in turn can reduce the occasions or length of absences in your school.

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Staff absence insurance from Towergate

We can offer tailored teacher absence insurance policies designed to suit your needs and give you peace of mind. For more information visit our dedicated staff absence insurance page or speak to a specialist adviser on 0330 123 5918.

We understand the stresses that teachers face and as a result, have a range of support features as standard in our teacher absence insurance policy:

  • Telephone support and counselling by therapists qualified and accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).
  • Up to eight Structured Telephone Counselling (STC) counselling sessions per person, per issue, per annum.
  • Up to eight face-to-face counselling sessions per person, per issue, per annum.
  • Serious illness and accident support.
  • An Online Health Portal.

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About the author

Jo Taylor - schools insurance articles authorJo Taylor is an respected insurance industry leader with over 15 years’ experience working with both education and the public sector. She is responsible for supporting her clients on all things insurance and risk related, and is also a mental health first aider qualified through Mental Health First Aid England.