We examined whether having a high percentage of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) in basic education schools increases the risk of sickness absence among teachers and whether this risk is dependent on the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR), an indicator of teacher resources at school.
We obtained register data on 8089 teachers working in 404 schools in 10 municipalities in Finland during the school year 2004-2005. We used multilevel multinomial regression models to examine the risk of teachers' short- and long-term sickness absence in relation to the percentage of SEN pupils and the PTR at school. We tested the equality of trends in groups with high and low PTR using PTR × SEN interaction term.
After adjustment for teacher and school characteristics, the risk for long-term absences was higher among teachers at schools with a high percentage of SEN pupils than among teachers at schools with a low percentage of SEN pupils [odds ratio (OR) 1.5, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.2-1.8). This was also the case for short-term absences (OR 1.4, 95% CI 1.2-1.7). In analyses stratified by the PTR levels, the association between the percentage of SEN pupils and long-term absences was 15% higher among teachers with a high PTR than among those with a low PTR (P for interaction=0.10).
Teachers' sickness absenteeism seems to increase with a higher percentage of SEN pupils, especially when the PTR is high. Teacher resources at schools that have a high percentage of SEN pupils should be well maintained to ensure the health of teachers.
This ongoing prospective study examined characteristics of school neighborhood and neighborhood of residence as predictors of sick leave among school teachers. School neighborhood income data for 226 lower-level comprehensive schools in 10 towns in Finland were derived from Statistics Finland and were linked to register-based data on 3,063 teachers with no long-term sick leave at study entry. Outcome was medically certified (>9 days) sick leave spells during a mean follow-up of 4.3 years from data collection in 2000-2001. A multilevel, cross-classified Poisson regression model, adjusted for age, type of teaching job, length and type of job contract, school size, baseline health status, and income level of the teacher's residential area, showed a rate ratio of 1.30 (95% confidence interval: 1.03, 1.63) for sick leave among female teachers working in schools located in low-income neighborhoods compared with those working in high-income neighborhoods. A low income level of the teacher's residential area was also independently associated with sick leave among female teachers (rate ratio = 1.50, 95% confidence interval: 1.18, 1.91). Exposure to both low-income school neighborhoods and low-income residential neighborhoods was associated with the greatest risk of sick leave (rate ratio = 1.71, 95% confidence interval: 1.27, 2.30). This study indicates that working and living in a socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhood is associated with increased risk of sick leave among female teachers.