Sunday, February 01, 2009

Cheap, cheaper and cheapest

One of my previous posts was on the subject of teaching assistants and cover supervisors, (it also gave a link to an article in ‘The Guardian’) someone sent a comment in –

‘Just read the very interesting link written by Colin the Cover Supervisor. All I can say is - shame on the head for not sacking the incompetent twit. If he could not manage the behaviour of a group of kids then he should not have been working in the school. Shame on Colin for not realising that he was taking the job of a perfectly capable Cover Supervisor with Behaviour Management experience and the ability to control their own temper! Cover Supervisors are hardworking, vital members of staff in our school. They are well trained and very well respected.’

Let’s imagine the following scenario, you’re lying in the wreckage of your car after a serious traffic accident and due to ‘financial cutbacks’ the person tending to your injuries is a member of the St Johns Ambulance. Yes, they are very dedicated, do a fantastic job, but they cannot replace trained professional paramedics. So why do we entrust the education of our children to unqualified people? What message does that send?

Before the 2003 ‘Remodelling Agreement’, by law, a class of children had to be taught by a qualified teacher. No sooner was the ink dry than unscrupulous heads began to use unqualified ‘cover supervisors’ to take classes. The National Union of Teachers was the only union to oppose the agreement; there was some local action against the practise. It petered out, mainly because most teachers hate covering lessons that they aren’t qualified to teach.

Using cover supervisors? At least they know the children and the quality of supply staff is variable. Surely there isn’t any harm in giving teachers a break and using them for the odd lesson? Let’s be honest, using unqualified cover supervisors, the children don’t actually learn anything, the lesson will be death by worksheets. It is also the thin end of the wedge.

Just how thin is that wedge? In April 2008 ‘The Guardian’ reported on Chalfonts Community College in Buckinghamshire, they were using sixth formers (payment £5 an hour) as supply teachers. There is a better way; before the supply service was privatised some local authorities had teams of well-trained supply teachers (no it wasn’t always perfect) who worked with a small number of schools.

During the last ten years teaching assistants in primary and secondary schools have risen from 61,260 to 165,380 and other support staff from 75,200 to 147,000. In primary schools the number of teachers increased from 183,930 to 188,860. Why not bring class sizes down and use experts to work with special education needs children?

Cover supervisors? It’s part of the process where teaching has become de-skilled, de-professionalised and de-valued.


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