Education Quandary: Do parents realise that from next term teachers will "rarely cover" for absent colleagues, and what that means?

Hilary's advice

No, and I doubt many do, as parents don't usually follow the twists and turns of education policy. But I agree with you that this is something they should know about, as it will affect their children in all kinds of ways.

Under new rules being brought in this September, teachers in England and Wales will rarely cover for colleagues who are absent from the classroom, whether these colleagues are away for meetings, training, sickness or any other reason. The idea is to reduce teachers' workload and give them more time to do their jobs. Teachers, so the thinking goes, should be using their free time in school to prepare lessons and mark pupils' work, not standing in for missing colleagues. So schools will be putting in place new cover arrangements, using supply teachers or, most probably, cheaper teaching assistants trained to act as "cover supervisors".

This has advantages for teachers – but what about the children? The new rule will touch all aspects of school life. School trips and visits will be pared back, along with other out-of-the-classroom activities such as daytime teacher-parent conferences, as schools will want to keep down the cost of teacher cover. And what about the pupils whose teacher is away on long-term sick leave? Will they get only cover supervisors for their lessons?

Schools are organic places where everything depends on relationships, team-work and flexibility, and many good things come out of the supportive, human atmosphere this generates. An unbending rule like this could easily take away more than it gives.

Readers' advice

This reader sounds very worried about supply teachers teaching their children. May I offer some reassurance? Many schools maintain a register of their "own" supply teachers, often, like me, ex-members of staff. They become known to the pupils, as well as to the permanent staff, so will be familiar faces. Also, they know the routines and discipline system of the school. As long as having a supply teacher is an occasional arrangement, it can help the pupils become adaptable as they have to listen to and understand another person's style. Do not despair. Most supply teachers I've met are conscientious, and I have come across some very lazy permanent staff.

Name withheld, Oxfordshire

My sister's children are at a school where classes are already taken by teaching assistants called cover supervisors. Some parents have written in protest to the local authority, but have been told this is now government policy. We are very anxious not to see this situation spread to our schools.

Moyra Keening, Suffolk

Teachers are going to have to have Masters degrees and be re-licenced every few years, but apparently it is all right for pupils to be taught by supervisors who might not even have GCSE English or maths. This is teaching on the cheap. Of course parents don't know. They would be furious if they did.

Andy Speckleman, London SW9

Next week's quandary

Research shows that out-of-school activities help to develop confidence and motivation in young people, andare a huge advantage on a CV or university application. Local authorities now have to offer them by law, but I can see that children in the more deprived areas near me aren’t getting any. What can be done?

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