Flemish teachers have never taken so much sick leave, according to figures from education minister Ben Weyts (N-VA) reported by De Standaard.
In 2018 teachers took an average of 16.37 days off work due to illness, compared to 15.87 days in 2017. The older age group, from 56 to 65, was hardest hit by problems like stress and burn-out. And the fact that the group is growing helped push the average upwards.
“There have to be urgent measures taken to keep these people on board,” commented the largest teachers’ union COC.
Weyts, meanwhile, played down the figures. “Speaking relatively, our teachers are not doing too badly,” he said, pointing out that public officials and private sector workers score even more highly, and their numbers are rising faster.
“He’s comparing apples with oranges, and anyway his comparison is beside the point” said Marianne Coopman of the COV union. “The point is that the psychological burden in education is growing year by year, and that the sickness rates are rising systematically.”
According to the figures released by the education authorities yesterday, four out of ten sick days in education are caused by stress and burn-out. For the older age group, the average is above 30 days. For school heads in the older age group, 60% of all sick days are the result of stress.
Another union representative described those figures as “a very worrying figure.”
“These people are dropping out more and more, at the same time as we’re being allowed to teach for longer,” said Koen Van Kerkhoven of COC. “Desperate measures are needed to make this career more attractive, especially at the end of a career, so that people can keep going for longer. Otherwise the shortage of teachers can only get worse.” Other problems teachers face include the pressure of timetables, changes to the organisation of secondary education and the growth of social problems teachers have to deal with among their pupils.
Weyts has already promised to invest €100 million in developing career plans for teachers, and another €100 million in primary education. But his concrete plans for how to allocate that money remain unclear.
“We have to make sure the timetable pressure for schools is reduced, while respect for teachers and senior staff is increased,” he said.