Save money on supply costs and staff absence insurance through better attendance management.

Variable costs for staff absence and subsequent supply cover can seriously threaten a school’s financial stability and outturn budget position. However, many schools are consistently failing to reduce staff absence due to internal difficulties monitoring and managing these absences. Kathryn Birch, Managing Director of FusionHR (educational HR specialists) discusses how school leaders can respond to staff absence challenges and therefore make real in-year budget savings.

The basic cost of absence in schools is approximately £797 per employee for primary schools and £1328 per employee for secondary schools (based on working days lost at approximately 7.4 according to CiPD Absence Management Survey 2016). However, in reality, this figure is much higher because it is exclusively based on the salaries of employees on sick leave rather than the cost of temporary supply cover, overheads and indirect costs associated with reduced effectiveness of supply cover on student progress. It doesn’t take into account the supervision of a replacement, team morale and the impact on standards. Therefore, costs are most likely doubled and standards almost definitely reduced.

Whilst it is not easy to accurately calculate the cost of sickness absence, it is possible to estimate the cost of absence by taking the salaries of those off sick and then use a formula to calculate approximate supply costs i.e. 50% of staff absences are teacher-related which normally attracts cover costs. The table below shows the estimated costs of sickness absence based on average salary costs in primary and secondary schools combined with the average sick days lost in education* and also shows how these costs can multiply if temporary supply cover is used for 50% of the absences.


We look at 12 ways to improve your school budget through better management of staff absences.

  1. Communicate the school’s Attendance Management Policy and in particular the notification procedure and associate trigger points to all employees
  2. Ensure the notification procedure includes a telephone call to a senior member of staff even where the school operates an absence management helpline/answering machine
  3. Ensure managers understand the Attendance Management Policy and Procedure and train managers and leaders on conducting effective absence management meetings – informal and formal
  4. Devolve some of the absence management process to line managers e.g. Return to Work Meetings
  5. After analysing your types of absence, consider proactive means the school could take to manage staff absence eg. stress awareness briefings, open days for staff to discuss wellbeing issues with a counsellor/life coach/health expert, regular health checks for leaders, flu jab vaccines
  6. Ensure Return to Work meetings are conducted for each and every absence
  7. Ensure that you are monitoring staff absences against pre-determined short-term and long-term triggers. Trigger lists should be run weekly and all employees hitting triggers invited to an absence review meeting as soon as possible
  8. Consider recruiting cover supervisors to provide cover for short-term absences as well as negotiating reduced rates from supply agencies for long-term absences
  9. Insurance can be costly – consider self-insuring rather than paying for staff absence insurance by setting aside a budgetary amount each year to cover unexpected costs associated with short-term and long-term absences
  10. Ensure that staff hitting short-term triggers understand that his/her absence is causing concern and that he/she could be given a warning at any stage, should their attendance not improve over that set period of time. Give them a target and monitor his/her attendance over a set period of time i.e. no more than 2 days over a 12-week period
  11. Carry out regular analyses of absences across Absence Types (Sickness, Unpaid Leave, Paid Leave, Maternity/Paternity etc.), Departments (Teachers, Leadership, Support Staff), Line Managers, Terms and Academic Years to assess trends and find ways to improve absence
  12. Regularly calculate the cost of absence and associated supply cover costs

Continue to find out further ways to better manage staff absence in schools by booking onto our attendance management training course. Click here to find out more. We would recommend you book a free demonstration of our bespoke absence software for schools if you haven’t already. Many schools are already seeing reductions of up to 62%** year on year when they effectively use the software and it saves time too. Call 01924 827869 to arrange a free demonstration.

*Average days absent of 7.4 per employee taken from CIPD Absence Management Survey 2016. Typical Supply Costs estimated at £200 per day. Typical Working Days based on 195 days a year per employee. Information based on average salary costs in primary and secondary schools.

**62% is based on an average across the three top schools who have effectively used SAM since September 2015. Measurement was taken across Autumn and Spring terms to show the number of days being saved.

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