Teacher Absences & Subs

Webinar Takeaways: 3 Ways to Boost Fill Rates and More

6 min. read

Have you looked at your district’s absence data lately? Do you have a solid understanding of how many non-working substitutes you have, and how that number might impact your fill rates?

In a recent webinar, Conrad Kraybill, Director of Product Management, and Kevin Agnello, Senior Data Analytics Engineer from Frontline Education, explored national trends in absence management from the past year, what to expect moving forward, and the actions you can take to fill absences.

If you’d like to tune into the full webinar, you can do that here.

The Data

Conrad and Kevin discussed data from Frontline Absence & Time, which includes data from 7,000 districts and organizations across the nation, 4 million employees, and over 195 million absences (all anonymized to protect client privacy). Why does that matter?

According to Kevin, “trends that we see in our data are close enough to be generalized to trends on the national level because it’s large enough and it encompasses enough of the differences between districts that, statistically speaking, our sample isn’t biased at all regarding national trends and absences.” The Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University has declared it to be representative of national trends for the reasons Kevin outlined above.

So while your experience might look different than the national trend, that’s ok!

The National Trends in Absences

Looking at national absence trends, there are four key metrics to keep an eye on:

  1. The number of absences requiring a substitute
  2. The percentage of working substitutes, which is the percent of substitutes who are in the system and have worked at least one job in a given time period
  3. The number of active substitutes
  4. The fill rate, which is the percentage of absences filled in a given time period

Spring 2020

The most surprising absence statistic from spring of 2020? Fill rates.


Until the onset of the pandemic, 2020 was trending right along with previous years. As schools across the country began to close in response to the emergency declaration (which happened in the twelfth week of 2020), absences understandably plummeted. The percent of substitutes filling those few absences also plummeted: typically, 25 – 30% of the active substitute pool fill at least one job each week, but that percentage dropped to 2 – 3% in the weeks following the emergency declaration.

The plot twist? Even though the number of active substitutes plummeted during this time, there was a spike in fill rates. Kevin’s take on why this trend might be the case: there was a small enough number of absences due to school closures, so any new absences were being filled by the few substitutes who continued to work.

Fall 2020

With fall 2020 came smaller substitute pools and a smaller percentage of substitutes filling jobs. With some schools reopening, there was also an increase in the number of absences requiring a substitute. That combination led to lower fill rates, something that has continued through the winter and into spring 2021.

Spring 2021

Do you prefer good or bad news first?

Let’s start with the good: the data shows a rise in the number of substitutes. The bad news? Fill rates haven’t rebounded at the same rates. As more schools have reopened — with some temporarily closing back down due to COVID-19 outbreaks — much of the data from spring 2021 has looked similar to fall 2020.

What to expect moving forward

Based on leading indicators, there are three dynamics you might see as the 2020 – 2021 school year closes out:

  1. Absences requiring a sub will continue to climb back toward levels in line with previous years
  2. The active substitute pool will continue to grow — and grow faster
  3. There will likely be an increase in the percent of working substitutes, which is a good sign for fill rates as working substitute percentages strongly correlate to fill rates

Your action items: how to boost fill rates

1. Use your data

If you’re a current Absence and Substitute Management client, you have access to the Non-Working Substitute Report. If you check it regularly, this report will give you an understanding of how engaged your substitutes are, and substitute engagement is especially important now.

If you’re an Absence and Substitute Management client, you also have access to Letter Writer, a helpful tool to engage your substitutes.

Why does substitute engagement matter?

Substitute engagement has an impact on your fill rates. At the organization level, a 10% increase in substitutes who are actively working in a given month (on average) is associated with fill rate increases of 30 – 40%.

You may enjoy this hand-picked content:

The Real Substitute Teacher Shortage: A Lack of Engagement

2. Focus on what you can control

While you can’t control the number of last-minute absences due to illness, there are a few ways you can increase your fill rates for other absences.

For every five-hour increase in lead time, the chances of an absence being filled increase by 1%.


What steps can you take to focus on what’s in your control?

  • Encourage teachers to enter absences early: while no administrator wants their employees to be out of the classroom, the earlier an absence is entered and approved, the higher the likelihood of finding a substitute.
  • Focus on planned absences: sick days will always happen, and you can’t necessarily control them, but you can focus on absences for PD and others.
  • Make sure your employees and substitutes know about and are using mobile. If you’re an Absence and Substitute Management client, you have access to the Frontline mobile app.

3. Embrace mobile

Why does mobile matter? There is a correlation between mobile adoption and fill rate — while this isn’t causation, it makes sense. When your teachers and staff can easily enter absences, administrators can approve those absences sooner, and then the search for a substitute is underway sooner, raising the chances of finding a sub.

If your substitutes use mobile as well, they can receive notifications for open positions on the go, making the process of finding and securing a substitute more efficient.

If you’re interested in watching the full webinar, you can tune in here. And if you’re interested in learning more about Absence & Substitute Management, you can find information here.


Elise Ozarowski

Elise is a writer and member of the award-winning content team at Frontline Education. A former member of Frontline’s events team, she is passionate about making connections, whether that be in person at events, online via social media or directly in her writing.

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