Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/569/7018
Cover supervisors: Teaching on the cheap
In 2004 a new job was created in schools. Cover or study supervisors, as we're known, take lessons when the normal class teacher is absent. The aim was to guarantee teachers PPA time (used for planning/preparing lessons, marking etc) and to reduce the amount of money spent on supply teachers.
A cover supervisor
Cover supervisors in my school, there's no national pay scale for the job, are paid a miserly £12,500 a year and this is a normal rate of pay within the education authority.
In order to justify such a low level of pay, national guidelines state that cover supervisors should not engage in any 'active' teaching, planning or preparation of lessons. Further guidelines that after three days' absence of the class teacher, a qualified supply teacher should be employed are frequently flaunted, to the extent where I've covered one class's IT lessons for a whole term!
How we're supposed to take a lesson without active teaching, whatever this means, is a subject of confusion for cover supervisors, teachers and the senior management. Of course, they won't admit this openly as it would suggest a substantial pay rise should be given.
Guidelines on how to avoid 'active' teaching state, for example, that if a pupil asks how to spell a word we should stop the class and ask if anyone else knows how to spell it. I once tried this when a pupil asked how to spell 'coliseum'. Four different spellings were suggested and none of the pupils knew which one was correct.
When I asked my manager what I should do in this situation she told me that I should have told the class that: "I won't tell you which one was correct but I will rub the incorrect spellings off the board". Apart from this disrupting the whole lesson, through making everyone stop work, this can have a huge impact on the confidence of students by drawing the attention of the class to any problems they have.
The lack of national guidelines on what cover supervisors' role is means that the job varies from school to school with some carrying out lesson plans while others go round with a set of crosswords and games.
No lesson plan
While the lesson plans are meant to remove the need for planning, this often is not the case and it's not unusual to be left without a lesson plan anyway.
If a member of staff is off sick it's understandable that they might not send in a lesson plan, and if the head of department isn't available it's a case of flicking through a pupil's book while trying to think up a suitable lesson - preferably one which doesn't require active teaching.
There are also numerous occasions I can think of when I have been left a history lesson plan for an RE lesson, then to discover that not only is the plan for the wrong subject but that they've already done that lesson in the other subject!
We're also expected to do a written report for every lesson we cover, and while we are given two hours a week to do this, the time is subject to cover requirements; so if we have 25 lessons to cover we get no time to write 25 lesson reports.
If any of you reading this fancy the job you'll be pleased to hear that there aren't any required qualifications. You could be covering any of the national curriculum subjects so a huge number of qualifications can be useful, though most cover supervisors have degrees. If you're thinking of it as a good way to get into teaching, think again. There's almost no training available, no vocational qualifications as there are for teaching assistants, and definitely no way to progress to being a qualified teacher.
There are, however, a few rays of hope. Some cover supervisors have managed to get their jobs re-classified as "learning mentors" thus getting themselves onto the same pay scale as teaching assistants (and a £4-6K pay rise!).
As local government workers, cover supervisors are subject to the same pay cuts and attacks on jobs and conditions as other public sector workers. It is vital that we stand together with other local government workers to stage a serious battle in defence of jobs, for decent pay, terms and conditions.
If our current trade union leadership are not prepared to do this then they should be replaced by those who will. That's why as a Unison member I'm supporting the left slate in the upcoming national executive elections and ask you to do the same.
In The Socialist 4 March 2009:
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
Socialist Party feature
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party women
International socialist news and analysis