In April, we were delighted to be joined by Nicola Johnson, Director of People and Culture at Prince Albert Community Trust (PACT), for a webinar to discuss the cost of staff absences – something we know spreads further than the bottom line.

Having worked in education HR for over a decade, Nicola had a vast amount of insight to share about the daily impact of absences on the Trust. But she was also able to tell attendees of some recent – and hugely positive – improvements to staff absence levels, since the Trust started using our school HR software to manage absence.

We’ve rounded up the key points that Nicola shared with Matthew Brown, one of our Every HR By IRIS Specialists, in two parts. If staff absence management is one of your responsibilities, they’re two parts you can’t afford to miss!

In this first part, learn:

  • The amount Prince Albert Community Trust currently spends on agency cover and sick pay, and how they’re looking to reduce this
  • The wider impact of staff absence levels
  • How the Trust has already halved staff absence levels this term (compared to last)

(And if you’d prefer to watch the session, the webinar is available on-demand. Just click the button below!)

What’s the cost of staff absence to Prince Albert Community Trust?

As of April 2024, PACT is made up of seven primary schools and one secondary free school. Last year, the Trust had one secondary free school but one less primary. And in total, it spent £750,000 on agency cover.

Nicola: “That really is the bottom line for money we’re taking away from our students.  We’re trying to save money everywhere, from heating to lighting to agency staff, so we can spend more on our children – particularly our vulnerable children. But that money is going away, so we needed to have a look at it.”

In the 2023 Autumn Term alone, we spent over £200k on sick pay.

N: “Everyone on this webinar today will understand burgundy book and green book sick pay, and this figure is for the majority of that pay. Most of what people are off for is on full pay.”

The wider impacts of staff absence

Matt then asked Nicola about what happens when cost is put aside – namely, the wider impact staff absence has on the Trust.

1. Staff wellbeing

Matt: “What sorts of feelings can staff have when a colleague is absent?”

N: “Resentment! Where one person is off, there’s the knock-on effect for other staff having to pick up the workload, from planning to teaching to support. If one half of the year group is off, the other half will be picking up the planning and the stress, and then they might end up off work with burnout.

It’s not always just another teacher picking up the workload – teaching assistants will be stepping up too, and so will staff like deputy headteachers. They’re the people who are supposed to be leading en masse for the school, but they’re having to step away from that to cover.

It leaves gaps in other areas of the organisation. Everybody fits together – we don’t have the money to have fat in the system anymore, or the luxury of those extra staff to pick up any slack.”

The strain on every other part of the school is immeasurable, really.

2. Student attendance

M: “I know from my own children that when there’s a cover teacher in for say 3-4 months, my kids’ levels of engagement significantly reduce – and that’s not what we’re wanting at all. We want kids to get the best learning outcomes.”

N: “The most important thing we want to put facts and figures on is the impact it [staff absence] has on student attendance. If the teachers aren’t going to be in and the students don’t want to go in, then sometimes that’s all it takes for there to be another student absence. It impacts our students – we’ve seen that correlation.”

3. Budget implications

Matt was also keen to hear where Nicola would otherwise choose to spend the money that’s used for agency cover and sick pay.

N: “We’d have more people, definitely! We’d also maybe have more technology that’s better and more fit for purpose, like new iPads which could also reduce the workload of teachers. Perhaps we’d have an extra curriculum leader… Without doubt, we’d be spending on people if we didn’t have these absence costs to cover.”

What’s been the biggest benefit of using Absence Management from Every HR? 

With the impact of staff absences at PACT laid out, Matt was keen to hear how the introduction of our staff Absence Management software has affected the way Nicola and her team are managing attendance.

N: “The biggest thing [since using Every HR] is that we’re told when someone has hit an absence trigger. The majority of our absence is that regular short-term absence, and it [Every HR] has given us more visibility over this.

And that’s not just us in HR, but visibility is given to the head of school, too. They get an email to say when somebody has triggered the absence policy, as well as the individual in question. My biggest mantra in HR is ‘no surprises’. And now there won’t be any surprises!”

When I get staff calling in now to report their absence, they tell me that they know they’ve hit an absence trigger. It’s consistent, and it takes away the central team having to run a load of data.

N: “If you’re running absence data every term or every month, you’re going to miss somebody. And then you wonder if it’s too late to do something now. The answer is ‘yes!’ if you didn’t manage that short term absence then. We can’t possibly miss anyone now.”

How have staff absence levels changed at PACT?

It was poignant to hear just how much of an impact knowing who’s off, and why, is having on Prince Albert Community Trust. Nicola went on to share how our staff Absence Management module highlighted previous issues with the Trust’s absence triggers, stating ‘they just weren’t working’. This prompted the Trust to change its absence policy and procedure to one that works on a rolling four-month basis.

N: “Every HR works in calendar months (not terms). At first, we thought this would be a frustration, but now we realise it’s been better for us. I can just look at the Every HR dashboard to get this data rather than having to run any reports. Our absences are decreasing over the long-term as people now know what’s going to happen, and it’s consistent to everybody across the Trust.”

Our absence level was 4.12% last year. In the current year to date, it’s 2.38%.

It’s a positive statistic to end the first half of this webinar round-up on! Click below to read part two, where we continue the staff absence management conversation and cover:

  1. Understanding the root cause of staff absences
  2. The cost of absence VS the cost of absence management software
  3. The most significant benefit of using Every HR to manage staff attendance at PACT