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  • Writer's pictureKeven Bartle

An Holistic Approach to Staff Absence Management

This morning, the Guardian reported on the increasing levels of sickness absence across the UK in this article:

The data from the CIPD are striking. Since before the pandemic, in 2019, absence rates due to sickness have rocketed from 5.8 days per year to 7.8 days per year. These are the highest recorded figures since 2010, suggesting that there may well be a link to periods of financial crisis.

Other data within the report that school leaders, headteachers and governors ought to heed carefully are the figures around workplace stress. The CIPD data suggest that 63% or long-term sickness absence is stress-related whilst 43% of short-term absence is down to stress. Although the article about the report doesn't offer a breakdown by profession, it would be a fairly reasonable assumption that more complex and human-centred workplaces - such as schools - might be likely to replicate or even amplify the broader trend.

One of the reasons why advocates for reflective supervision for school leaders and staff is that it is holistic. The focus is always, and rightly so, on the work the supervisee does with key school stakeholders. But, to achieve these ends, reflective supervision keeps in mind the restorative aspects of supporting and sustaining others, as well as the formative and normative aspects. This means that reflective supervision pays attention to the personal resources of the supervisee to cope with and keep going with the work at hand. This offers the best chances that the supervisee can get better at that work and exceed expectations in its completion.

In other words, and related to the CIPD data, helping school staff to be able to focus on how their workplace and domestic challenges might be impacting on their ability to do their work could potentially be crucial. The Teacher Well-being Index 2022 by Education Support showed a remarkably lower proportion of staff looking to leave their schools when they felt supported by their employers (see previous posts). Just as striking are their data on stress in schools, where 50% of all work-related ill-health is because of stress, depression or anxiety. 86% of school staff who report feeling stressed feel that their organisations do not support them effectively.

We are not claiming that reflective supervision is a panacea. Clearly the wider issues impacting on staff are manifold and significant. But if ever there was a time for an holistic approach to care for our colleagues, one that keeps them as central to our thinking as their work outputs, it is now when times are at their toughest. We believe that school staff want to be better at their work and that means they want to be at school to do this work. Reflective supervision can enable them to surface issues that are stressors, whatever their provenance, in order to make sense of those issues before they cause the burnout that leads to absence.

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