A Surprising Reason for Teacher Absence

Teacher absence is bad news for everyone concerned. For the school, who must organise a substitute teacher and possibly incur associated costs. For colleagues of the absent teacher, who pick up the slack in setting work, teaching additional classes and dealing with last minute administration. For the students, who miss out on valuable learning time. And, most significantly, for the poor, ailing teacher, for whom an unplanned absence will often generate more work in the long run.


This why the best schools prioritise staff wellbeing and will support a teacher to take the time they need to recover, so they feel happy to return to school with a clean bill of health.  After all, teaching is serious work and there’s no hiding behind a desk or postponing an important task until wellness returns. When a teacher is genuinely unwell, it makes little sense to solider on and risk becoming even sicker.


Sometimes, however, teacher absence is not as it seems. Sometimes there is more to a ‘sick day’ than meets the eye. Sometimes, schools find, staff are not really suffering from illness but are instead reacting to a poor timetable.


We have seen on countless occasions that schools that improve their timetable with Edval will often notice a subsequent reduction in teacher absence. Prominent UK education leader, Janice Gorlach, explains that since switching to Edval ‘lessons are now well spread throughout the week and in good balance’. She continues that ‘staff absence is now very low’, when compared with absence rates prior to Edval, and attributes this to the new timetable.


It is important to understand that this absence isn’t usually due to a lack of professionalism, but rather some combination of exhaustion and energetic depletion. Many of the Edval team are fully qualified, highly experienced teachers (including the author of this blog) and we understand the difference between ‘genuinely sick’ and ‘simply can’t face my horrible Tuesday’. Teaching is a demanding job and even the most effective educators are susceptible to burnout.


Maybe you have a scratchy throat. Maybe it’s a mild headache. Maybe you were up all night with a sick child. Maybe you spent the weekend alone with an enormous pile of marking. Maybe you faced some difficult parents’ interviews earlier in the week. In these instances, the difference in strong and weak timetabling is everything.


Consider a well-designed schedule offering evenly spaced lessons and plenty of breaks. Then imagine a relentless day of six hours’ teaching large, challenging classes in a subject that isn’t your specialism without break because you’re on playground duty, followed by a long departmental meeting and a full evening of planning. We’ve been on the receiving end of a poor timetable and it’s not fun. If a hard-working teacher is already under the weather, the prospect of a long and difficult day ahead can seem unendurable.


Smart timetabling, therefore, makes sense for everyone. Teachers feel happier. Schools save money. Students receive better access to teaching and learning. Schools tell us time and time again that a good timetable is truly transformative.


Want to learn more about smarter timetabling? Why not download a free eBook.