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13 Dec 2010

Educator leave: A need to reduce time away from classrooms

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

In his 2010 State of the Nation Address to Parliament this year, President Zuma committed Government to improve the state of education in the country by ensuring that educators are at school, on time and on task. The Department of Basic Education commissioned the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) to investigate the phenomenon of educator leave in South African public schools.

The study, titled An Investigation into Educator Leave in the South African Ordinary Public Schooling System, concluded that, on average, the extent of educator leave in South African ordinary schools can be conservatively estimated to be between 10 – 12%. This means that in a school with a staff complement of 30, one could expect about three of the staff members to be away from school on any one day.  

Educators are away from school and classes when they take leave according to the leave measures and when on official business; like professional development workshops, meetings, excursions.  The study estimated that close to quarter of time away from school is for official duties. Thus the leave rate according to leave measures (sick leave, family responsibility etc) is between 8 to 10%. Further, in terms of time on task, the estimated leave rate can be translated to a loss of between 20 and 24 days a year of instructional time. Of these 6 days are taken up for official duties.

The estimated leave rate varies from school to school and province to province and leave rates are highest where the socio-environmental condition, like poverty is most negative. Leave for official activities are higher in smaller and more rurally based schools. In our estimates we found that almost one third of schools have leave rates greater than 10%.
By international standards, the national average leave rate for school-based educators is neither too high nor too low. In high income countries, the extent of teacher absence was between 3% and 6%. In low income countries, the extent of teacher absence ranges between 11% and 28%.

Just over three quarters of all leave instances are one or two days in length i.e. leave which is discretionary and does not require a medical certificate.  Mondays and Fridays are the most popular days for discretionary leave.  The main reason given for leave taking is sickness.

From the school visits, it was found that generally, management of schools is reasonable and governance, management and administration systems are largely in place.  There is still room for improvement in how to strategically use the information to manage and decrease leave taking.

It must be noted that high leave rates affect learning and educational quality. Schools need to reduce time away from classrooms by monitoring both leave on official duty and leave taken according to leave measures.  The study recommends that the number of days that educators are away from school for official duties be reduced and in particular the time that the principal is away from school for official business be capped.

The study proposes that the principal and school governing bodies would need to monitor patterns of leave taking in schools and manage possible abuse of leave taking. The study also recommends that the national and provincial departments of education first focus on those schools that have a leave rate higher than 10%.

Brief on Educator leave in the South African ordinary schooling system:

Powepoint presentation from the launch is now available:

Download the full report:

For interviews, or further information, please call:

    •    Dr Vijay Reddy, Executive Director, Education and Skills Development, on tel +27(0)31 242 5426/8 (office), cell phone, 083 784 9198, vreddy@hsrc.ac.za (e-mail), or
    •    Professor Relebohile Moletsane on 083 734 6967.