Pupils and supply teachers can help improve covered lessons – if they are asked

22. Covering Teachers' AbsenceA guest blog from our colleagues.

The release of the recent reports by both Estyn and ourselves (The Wales Audit Office) into arrangements for covering teachers’ absence in Wales not only got a lot of interest but also sparked off some flashbacks to our own school days.

The Daily Post summed this up best in their Editorial (Absent Teachers cost more than cash, 17 Sept) which painted a picture of the ‘bonus’ free lesson where the inexperienced stand-in teacher was drafted in to ‘baby sit’ the class. Many of us might remember lessons where they did little more than ‘get on quietly’ because the stand-in was ill-prepared to pick up where the regular teacher had left off.

Both reports offer advice on tackling this issue, which is seen to be hampering pupil’s progress in Wales, and there are some great examples from the reports of how some schools are meeting the problem head-on – the best examples of which go beyond simply changing monitoring arrangements and look inward for solutions.

The first example to really jump out involves going straight to the source and gathering pupil’s views. This looks to be a good step towards really measuring the impact of absence on the pupils themselves. Surveying ‘service users’ is something common place in other sectors but perhaps not as well used in developing education policy and arrangements. As take up of the recent Sport Wales survey into children’s participation in sport (09 October) showed not only is there an appetite among pupils to share their views (110,000 pupil responses throughout Wales) but they can also produce some great insight.

Further to this there is also it seems a need to bring supply staff into this conversation and involve them in helping to improve the level and quality of the lessons that are covered.

There are a number of recommendations throughout the two reports that focus on training and performance management for cover staff. For instance, these include involving supply staff in performance management arrangements, making sure they receive essential information on health and safety and safeguarding and importantly providing on-going professional development opportunities for them.

While there will obviously be some common issues between all schools in Wales, there is a great deal of merit in canvassing opinion and suggestions on a school by school basis. By involving both pupil’s and supply teachers in the planning of these services there is a move towards a more robust approach to making covered lessons better. The ultimate aim is to create better-prepared systems that are able to maintain the quality of lessons and minimise the impact teacher absence has on attainment and what better place to start than involving those it affects most – A lesson that applies to any public service that utilises temporary staff.

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