Friday 20 October 2017

Teachers on sick leave now cost €1m a week

Secondary teachers are allowed to take four consecutive sick days each year without having to provide a doctor's certificate (Stock image)
Secondary teachers are allowed to take four consecutive sick days each year without having to provide a doctor's certificate (Stock image)
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

The cost of providing cover for teachers on sick leave is now more than €1m a week, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

It comes as stressed-out teaching staff grappling with work-related anxiety, and various other problems ranging from marital breakdown to addiction issues and ill-health, are increasingly turning to a 24/7 crisis counselling service.

Secondary teachers are allowed to take four consecutive sick days each year without having to provide a doctor's certificate.

In the primary sector, teachers are entitled to three consecutive days of sick leave without needing a note from a GP.

But latest figures secured by the Sunday Independent show that providing cover for teachers "out sick'' is now a massive cost for taxpayers.

Some €51m was spent up to October this year on substitution costs in primary and secondary schools.

Official figures also reveal the cost of providing cover in primary education has exceeded the bill for second level schools in each of the past three years.

In 2015, €28m was allocated for teachers in primary education. This compares with €25m in the post-primary sector.

In 2014, the corresponding figures stood at €31m and €26m respectively.

Overall, the cost to the taxpayer by way of sickness cover and related headings is now €1.1m per week.

Data for 2015 show that primary school teachers took on average of 5.4 sick days last year - with 5.2 days lost in the post-primary sector.

Meanwhile, new figures also show an increasing number of teachers calling on a special State-funded service, which provides one-to-one counselling and professional advice.

In 2014, a total of 1,241 teachers sought confidential advice from Carecall Welling, which provides high-end psychological services 365 days a year. This figure rose to 1,267 last year.

Under the initiative, a teacher may call on up to four counselling sessions for emotional or stress-related problems.

Department of Education records show that 10,870 teaching staff have used the service since it was introduced in 2006.

This means a significant number of teachers have sought professional help arising from a range of personal and professional crises.

Sources suggest these include alcohol and drug addiction issues, alleged bullying and harassment.

Financial and legal worries, as well as domestic violence and relationships, are among the problems raised.

However, official data does not indicate the number of 'unique teachers' who have used the service - a particular individual may be counted a number of times.

Described as an "employee assistance service", it is also available to immediate family members such as spouses and children.

They are entitled to use both telephone counselling and up to four face-to-face sessions.

The two-tier pay rate, which is said to discriminate against newly qualified teachers, has been a major area of stress, particularly for younger employees, according to union sources.

In a statement, the Department of Education said the majority of teaching staff seek professional advice for emotional, personal, martial and family issues.

Sunday Independent

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