OVER-work and a lack of support for additional needs pupils have been blamed for a sharp rise in school staff absences caused by mental ill health.

Almost 400,000 staff days have been lost in the last three years, new figures from councils show, with absences for teachers and support staff both climbing year-on-year.

Teaching staff absences rose from 75,281 lost days in 2015/16 to 87,066 days last year, a rise of 16 per cent.

Support staff absences rose even more dramatically, from 43,307 to 58,300 lost days over the same period, a jump of 35%.

The figures, obtained by the Scottish LibDems under freedom of information (FoI), suggest a vicious circle in which absences add to the strain on other staff, making it more likely that they too will need time off, further affecting the quality of children’s education.

Overall, almost a quarter of a million teaching staff days were lost across nursery, primary and secondary schools, and 150,000 support staff days.

Glasgow, the country’s largest local authority, had the most absences, with 16,127 days lost last year, followed by Fife (12,127) and Highland (11,781).

However only 29 of Scotland’s councils provided figures - Angus, Falkirk and Moray failed to hand over the information - so the true numbers are likely to be higher.

The mental health problems covered included including stress, depression, and anxiety.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, Scotland’s biggest teaching union, said the numbers came as "no surprise", and reflected the union’s forthcoming member survey.

He said: “Significant stress is a daily factor in the lives of teachers, leading to a poor sense of well-being in post, which inevitably feeds into the life of a school.

“Excessive workload and a lack of support for pupils with additional needs are cited as two of the key drivers of teacher stress levels.

“Too little attention is paid by both councils and Scottish Government to the importance of teacher wellbeing as a prerequisite for positive pupil health and well-being.”


Last month a survey by the Mental Health Foundation of Scotland reported half of teachers felt the stress of the classroom was taking a toll on their mental wellbeing.

LibDem MSP Tavish Scott blamed the Scottish Government’s handling of education - with reforms shelved, controversial standardised tests imposed and a pay strike in the offing - for adding to teacher stress.

He said: “The pressure on classroom teachers is obvious. Teaching unions are worried by falling teacher morale, the top-down approach to education by central government and the impact of testing regimes on classrooms.

"This pressure has to be a factor in the growing number of absences caused by mental ill health.

“In 2019, the Scottish Government must turn over a new leaf and work to reduce the pressure on Scotland’s overworked school staff.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is important that all public sector workers providing frontline services are in the strongest position to deliver those services.

"Although it is for local authorities to ensure all of their staff, including teachers, have access to the necessary mental health and wellbeing support our 10 year Mental Health Strategy outlines a range of actions aimed at ensuring everyone in Scotland can get the right support when they need it most.

"We have also taken decisive action to reduce teacher workload and recruit additional teachers to avoid any additional burden on existing staff."