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Ensuring continuity of learning
Public thematic report
October 2021
The assessment of teacher absences is a sensitive issue because the statistical
measurement and the perception of pupils and their families do not exactly match. Some of
their absences are not recorded, while some of the work they do, because it is done outside
the classroom, is unfairly treated as an absence.
The Court’s
investigation has sought to shed light, in turn, on these two aspects, which
have taken on particular significance recently. The health crisis has highlighted the
importance of the continuity of face-to-face learning. Whether the absence is due to personal
reasons, such as health issues, or to work obligations that temporarily take the teacher away
from the classroom, the school must ensure continuity of learning. While families were
previously content to express their disapproval at the start of the school year or through
parent association meetings, they now no longer hesitate to hold the government responsible
before the courts for failing to provide a continuous
education service.
The Court of Accounts has also attempted to measure the cost and effectiveness of the
resources allocated by the government to limit the harm to continuity of learning in the state
education sector, and has tried to identify ways and means that might improve its
effectiveness, at a time when the public authorities have decided to implement, from the start
of the 2021 school year, learning support in the event of a teacher’s short
-term absence.
For the Court, the ministry needs to adopt a genuine strategy based on several pillars
which are still lacking: knowledge of the phenomenon, preventive healthcare initiatives, ways
of limiting and making up for short-term absences. Among such absences, absences for
institutional reasons can be reduced by shifting these work tasks and obligations to outside
teaching time.
Absence from work and absences from the classroom
The specific features of the teaching profession, including the weekly timetable and
school calendar, make it difficult to measure absences. For example, a secondary school
teacher who visits their family two days in a row because they have no classes, is not
recorded as absent; the same applies to a school teacher who is bed-bound for a week during
the school holidays. Neither is counted as an absent employee, which distorts comparisons
with other categories of workers.
On the other hand, teachers who are called upon by their superiors to carry out teaching
tasks other than being present in the classroom, such as sitting on an examination board, are
not teaching and are considered absent by families, even though they are working and
contributing to the running of the school. This situation calls for an alternative solution on the
part of the national education system to ensure continuity of learning.
While teaching cover for teachers is guaranteed in almost 80% of cases in primary
education from the first day of absence, and teaching of pupils guaranteed, the situation is
more complex in secondary education. While more than 96% of teacher absences of more
than two weeks are covered, nearly 10 % of teaching hours were never
theless “lost” in the
2018-2019 school year, an increase of 24% compared to the previous year. The main reason
for such a high level of uncovered teaching time is closely related to the difficulties caused
by short-term absences, which alone account for almost 2.5 million hours, of which only just
over 500,000 are covered. Parents and even pupils have less and less tolerance for this
situation. Thanks to access to digital workspaces, which have been widely developed in
secondary education
, parents and pupils now have a real-time information tool that allows
them to find out if the teacher is absent for personal reasons (mainly health issues), or
because the ministry is taking them away from face-to-face teaching to do carry out other
(ongoing training, examination boards, school trips, teachers’ meetings).
Paradoxically, despite these new sources of data, teacher absences, particularly short-
term absences, are still not completely understood by the ministry of education, youth and
sport (MENJS)
According to analyses by the DGAFP (
) and the DEPP (
), based on absences reported
by national education managers on the ground, teachers are no more absent than other civil
servants, and less so than regional and hospital civil servants. However, these analyses do
not fully take into account the specific features of the work of teachers, characterised in
particular by a different number of weeks worked. Furthermore, the proportion of teachers
absent due to ordinary illness on a given day is lower than that of employees in the private
sector and in other ministries.
An essential preliminary step: measuring and comparing the
The m
inistry still lacks robust, remotely accessible tools to measure teachers’
absences, regardless of the terms of teaching work, and to relate them to their service
The data collected today are incomplete, especially for short-term absences. While
progress has been made in primary education, this is not the case in secondary education,
where the recording of reasons for absences places too much emphasis on time off for health
reasons, to the detriment of other types of absence linked to the running of the institution.
This shortcoming is particularly unjustified as almost all secondary schools are equipped with
software that records all absences, informs families and facilitates teaching cover. Beyond
exhaustively recording absences, the MENJS must endeavour to quantify the actual working
time of teachers, which is not limited to the time spent teaching pupils.
The lack of an interface between this software and the m
inistry’s national applications
deprives the institution of necessary information. However, the process that would correct
this shortcoming is moving too slowly, even though an important step was taken in December
2020 towards an operational solution under public ownership, which the Court had been
advocating for several years. The ministry needs to create a national database, which can
be adapted to the level of each regional education authority, bringing together information on
During the health crisis, some territories accelerated the roll-out of digital work places [ENT in the French
acronym] to primary schools (regional education authorities of Nancy-Metz and Montpellier), while others decided
to extend them to primary schools (regional education authority of Lille).
The Court had already made this observation in its public thematic report
Finding a different way to manage
teachers, a reform that remains to be done
, october 2017.
General directorate for administration and civil Service.
Directorate for evaluation, forecasting and performance.
Due to a lack of tools, the ministry conducts a survey of lost teaching hours in secondary
schools which provides only approximate data
. In 2018-2019, 9.3 % of teaching hours were
lost: more than a third (34%) can be explained by absences for personal reasons, the
remaining two thirds being caused by the functioning of the national education system itself.
In addition, the existence of objective information with the definition of a framework for
exercise of the profession remotely and/or in times of crisis would make it possible to
establish the intervention of managers with certain teachers who were not very engaged, and
in particular, if necessary, to provide a basis for decisions on sanctions, which were almost
non-existent during the period of lockdown.
In view of the high level of absences due to health reasons, consolidate
the m
inistry’s preventive healthcare policy
Although health reasons are the primary cause of absence, the ministry does not have
a structured preventive healthcare policy. Implementation of the regulations is unsatisfactory:
the basic documents (single occupational risk assessment documents, DUERP), which make
it possible to define such a policy, do not exist everywhere, preventive healthcare is under-
resourced (87 preventive healthcare specialists for 900,000 teachers), and the institution
does not make sufficient use of the existing information.
As guardian of the national vision, the ministry must rediscover its role as strategist and
regulator, and not confine its action to initiatives rolled out in certain regional education
authorities, as illustrated by the fight against the flu epidemic.
Drastically reduce and cover institutional absences
The cost of teacher absences is est
imated by the Court at nearly €4 billion per year, of
which more than a third is due to the functioning of the education system itself. The latter
type of absences are mainly short-term absences that are poorly covered in secondary
Too many abse
nces related to organisation of the public service itself eat into pupils’
In general, the difference between regulatory service obligations (ROS)
annual working hours expected from teachers as public sector employees (1,607 hours)
leaves sufficient time slots for absences due to the institution not being attributed to teaching
The school should ensure that the organisation of examinations or entrance
examinations and teachers’ meetings does not systematically eat into pupils’ class time, that
training courses take place outside teaching time and that teachers taking part in school trips
or outings are systematically covered.
The annual survey of state secondary schools on the amount of teaching time not provided to pupils (TENAE)
took over from the survey on uncovered teacher absences (ANR) from the 2017-2018 school year onwards.
These can range from 540 hours for a secondary school teacher to 972 hours for a primary school teacher
(1,296 hours for a teacher-librarian).
In order to facilitate short-term teaching cover, the simple revival of teaching cover
protocols within secondary schools is not enough, as the head teacher is still lacking the
resources to find cover apart from volunteers. Similarly, the announcement of teaching plans
in secondary education at the start of the 2021 school year will be of no use if management
teams do not have the resources to implement them successfully. The Court already
recommended in 2017 including teaching cover in teachers’ jobs: the incorporati
on of an
annual fixed number of teaching cover hours in revised RSO, and strengthening of the remit
of the head teacher, in addition to this measure, would give a solid basis to short-term
teaching cover.
And lastly, the health crisis has highlighted the need for administrative continuity at all
levels of the school institution to better monitor the presence of teachers with their students
and to support them in case of difficulty. In this perspective, the ministry should establish a
general framework for administrative continuity plans specifying certain expectations for
relations between the administration and teachers, within teaching teams and between
teachers and families, so as to improve the monitoring of teachers’ activity by national
education inspectors and school heads.
Summary of recommendations
Annualise the hours of service of secondary school teachers in order to reduce
institutional absences, especially those related to training and teaching work, and
improve the cover for short-term teacher absences (
Ensure that an administrative continuity plan is drawn up in each state education service
structure in the event of a crisis, in addition to the teaching continuity plan, based on a
framework set at national level (
Implement as soon as possible the obligation to have a single document for the
assessment of occupational risks (DUERP) in schools, EPLEs [state secondary schools]
and departments (
Implement a preventive healthcare policy including incentives for vaccination of teaching
staff (
Recover data from timetable software to feed a national database of absences, to be
created (
Adapt information systems so that they allow the recording and monitoring of all
absences, whatever the cause, as well as consideration of remote learning activities, in
the event of disruption of normal teaching conditions (