Are teachers overworked? 2.6 million working days lost to teacher sickness last year

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Members of the public say teachers seem to have heavy workloads and unruly children to grapple with 😬
  • The amount of sick days being taken by workers has been on the rise since 2020.
  • Teachers have been hard hit, even as the UK has generally returned to a post-pandemic normal.
  • Teaching assistants appear to be picking up the slack, with many teaching nearly a day’s worth of lessons each week.
  • One union is concerned about the impacts of high workloads and low recruitment on the workforce.

England’s teaching workforce lost a whopping 2.6 million working days to sickness last year.

Data for the 2022/23 school year, recently released by the government, has revealed that more than 66% of the country’s 468 thousand full time equivalent teachers took time off for health reasons throughout the year - an average of eight days each. This is actually a small drop on the year before, but the Office for National Statistics say sickness absence across the general UK workforce has been on the rise since 2020.

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The highest levels were in female workers, and those in caring, leisure and service occupations - putting teaching right at the point of intersection. Teaching assistants have been left to pick up a lot of the slack, with a recent survey showing two in five teaching assistants have said they were covering at least five hours for teachers per week, nearly one whole school day.

Teachers are losing millions of working days to sickness each year (Photo: Adobe Stock)Teachers are losing millions of working days to sickness each year (Photo: Adobe Stock)
Teachers are losing millions of working days to sickness each year (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Experts, including the National Education Union (NEU), say the profession is in the middle of “a seemingly permanent recruitment and retention crisis”, leaving those who remain burdened by a hefty workload coupled with real-term pay cuts over years. The government’s workforce census showed 44,002 new teachers entered the workforce last year - 3,900 fewer than the year before - but 43,522 left it.

We asked people from across the UK why they thought teachers might be so affected by absenteeism, and whether being overworked had anything to do with it. One man from Birmingham, who has several friends and family members who were teachers, said: “The feedback I have is that there’s too much examination paperwork, sometimes they’ve got students distracting attention in the class, sometimes they’re just stressed - they’re still working when they go home from school.”

Another attributed the stress teachers faced to children’s behaviour in the classroom, saying she had even heard reports of teachers having chairs thrown at them.

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The government figures also showed the number of pupils per teacher at schools has been generally trending upwards since 2013. There were 20.8 pupils for every nursery or primary school teacher at the start of the 2023/24 school year. This is up slightly from last year, but marginally lower than the peak of 20.9 seen in 2017 - 2020. There were also 16.8 pupils for every secondary school teacher this year - the same as last year.

Watch the video above to find out more on what people think about teachers being overworked. You can also join the conversation and make your voice heard by commenting below.

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