SCHOOL staff in Renfrewshire have taken almost 20,000 sick days due to mental health issues since April 2017, new figures show.

The disruption caused by absence through issues such as stress comes at a time when concerns have been raised over teacher morale during the coronavirus crisis.

Data obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats under Freedom of Information legislation shows that, in Renfrewshire, a total of 1,682 days of absence have been taken by teachers and support staff where mental health was cited as the reason so far during the current academic year.

Last year, 6,412 days were lost, with 4,064 days of absence in 2018/19 and 7,637 days in 2017/18.

Beatrice Wishart, education spokesperson for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, warned that teacher morale is “heading in the wrong direction.”

She said: “The pressures caused by the SNP’s top-down approach to education and the loss of valuable classroom support have been obvious for some time.

“All of this was taking its toll long before the coronavirus pandemic came over the horizon.

“Since then, teachers have been thrust into the frontline, dealing with conditions that no other group has been asked to tolerate.

“It will be no surprise if absences this year are even higher.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said efforts to support the health and wellbeing of teachers and other school staff is of “paramount importance.”

He added: “This was true before Covid-19 but it is of crucial importance as school staff support our children and young people to recover from the effects of the coronavirus crisis.

“In September, we announced a package of support for school staff, with Barnardo’s Scotland and mental health charity Place2Be offering new mental health support.

“This additional help complements the excellent practice which is already taking place to support the wellbeing of staff in schools across Scotland.

“Teachers’ pay is a matter for the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers. Pay discussions will commence after the festive break and the Scottish Government will play its part in these discussions.”