The power of numbers: 30 years of absence management trends: lessons learned and best practices for the future

Numbers have a unique power to tell stories and reveal insights about the world around us. When it comes to absence management, tracking and analysing data over time can provide valuable information about trends and patterns – even more so when you have 30 years of experience working closely with education leaders and establishments behind you.

Since the foundation of EPM in 1993, there have been huge changes and successes. Growing from an education services business with just a handful of employees that offered HR support, to our current position employing 250+ people and offering a complete solution for schools and trusts, it’s clear to see the journey that EPM has already been on.

Of course, as with most aspects of growth, employee absences have changed as have the factors contributing to them, particularly with the aftereffects of a global pandemic. From the impact of technology to shifting workplace demographics, it’s crucial for education leaders to know how to use their data and create more effective absence management strategies.

The importance of absence management in education

We know that some absences can’t be prevented, but it’s one of the most crucial aspects that needs tackling to improve pupil outcomes. Schools and trusts often focus on their Absence Management Policies, which can be effective in lowering absences but usually only focus on individual cases rather than the root cause. In the education sector, it’s crucial to have an effective absence management system in place to ensure that pupils receive the education they need without interruptions caused by teacher absences.

Looking at absence management trends

The past three decades have seen a significant shift in absence management practices in the sector. Starting in the 1990s, many education settings lacked systems to effectively manage teacher absences due to the limited technology available to track occurrences. Back then, the process was manual and required paper-based forms, making it difficult to identify absence patterns. However, with the advent of technology, the shift towards automated absence management systems has significantly improved, allowing for easier recording and reporting.

Simply comparing the number of absences this year with previous years doesn't go far enough. At first glance, one school within a trust may appear to have a higher absence rate than other schools. But any maternity and absences related to serious illness may skew data, and further analysis may show that in terms of general illness, the school actually outperforms others within the trust.

Accurately recording absences allows you to identify trends and patterns for individuals and the school or trust as a whole. Consider the average length of an absence, the number of instances, and whether they are dominated by a few individuals, a particular department, or spread throughout your organisation. If there are members of staff who appear regularly in your absence reports, but you’re unaware of any underlying health issues, could these regular occurrences indicate a different issue? Accurate data will allow you to identify and confidently manage any potential absence patterns.

Trusts may also benefit from comparing absence data across the organisation to identify schools performing well and investigate and adopt their strategies to support other schools within the trust.

Absence management statistics - 30 years of data

With absence management systems in place, school administrators can identify patterns in teacher absences and take proactive measures to manage them. Ultimately, this can lead to a reduction in teacher absences and have a positive impact on student achievement. Moving away from countless systems, spreadsheets and form checking will free up employee time and resources that are only sometimes available. Instead, Absence Management and Reporting software will heavily reduce the time taken to obtain data, reduce miscalculations and provide initial areas for investigation to help reduce absences in school.

Tools and technologies for absence management

Our intuitive Insights platform allows schools and trusts to view infographics that support the user in identifying trends, which can then be explored in more detail. Filtering options also enable data to be split-viewed across the trust, multiple schools, or individual schools, allowing for segmentation by role and absence type or instances. Potential trends, patterns and areas of concern can be investigated using the raw data to test any likely assumptions. And once you have identified these areas for development, you can begin to explore the causes of these absence types and consider plans to combat them.

Our recent technology partnership will also see our best-in-class advice underpinned by market-leading software from EveryHR By IRIS. With our bespoke develop of this platform, we’ll support clients nationwide even more thoroughly with data-driven decision-making. Through access to a modern, self-serve platform you’ll have the resources to make informed and proactive choices based on the data from across your organisation.  
How EPM can help

At EPM, we’re dedicated to providing the systems and expertise to help school leaders manage a variety of absences effectively, enhanced by our management and reporting software. While absence is inevitable, analysing your data will provide you with a thorough understanding and allow you to focus on the areas where you can ultimately reduce absence at work.