Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Audit Commission Better Value for Money: Managing staff absence and cover

The main findings on staff absence and cover are as follows.

■ Nationally, rates of teacher sickness absence have reduced in recent years, but there is still notable variation between council areas and in some areas rates have been persistently high. Schools have scope to reduce teacher sickness absence and release some £14 million of productive teacher time annually. As the primary employer of teachers, councils can assist them in doing so.

■ Numbers of Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) have risen by 38 per cent since 2008, to over 15,000. However, fewer than half of all schools employ any HLTAs. Schools that have invested in support staff have not reduced spend on supply staff, and there is some evidence
that the use of qualified support staff for cover may be hindered by cultures in schools.

■ Nationally, there has been little change in school spending on supply teachers since 2003. Schools continue to make extensive use of supply teachers, who account for 5 per cent of their spend on teachers, £875 million in total. We found considerable variation in supply teacher
spending and nearly one school in five spends over 10 per cent of their teaching budgets on supply teachers. Our analysis suggests that schools could make considerable savings by reviewing these costs. Schools now spend more on agency-sourced and less on directly-contracted supply teachers.

Questions for school leaders and governing bodies

■ How do you know that the school’s strategy for managing staff absence is clear, fit for purpose, and widely understood?

■ What does your review of current and historical patterns of absence and your benchmarking against others tell you?

■ Who has named responsibility for absence management? How does the senior leadership team manage the issue?

■ Have you considered working collaboratively with other local schools to cover sickness absences?

■ How can you make sure you get the best support from your local council to apply best practice in absence management?

■ What scope does the school have to make use of existing teachers to cover? What are the financial and educational implications of employing a floating teacher to cover

■ What use is the school making of qualified support staff to cover short-term absence? Do you support training for these designated roles?

■ What options have you explored (for example revised timetabling or collaboration with other schools) for ensuring you have in-house cover?

■ How do you monitor and report on the use and costs of supply teachers? How have these changed over time?

■ How have you benchmarked spend on supply teachers locally and with similar schools? How do you justify your spend - by need or supply teacher quality?

■ How have you assessed the relative costs of direct contracts with supply teachers and using agency staff?

■ Have you conducted a financial analysis of the viability of supply teacher insurance?

The full Audit Commission report on Managing staff absence and cover can be found below:

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