Are supply teachers and cover supervisors complementary?

Each week, we’ll speak to the people who count, people like you, and post their opinions on the big issues in the education world.  Read it and comment to make it a lively and insightful debate.

This week’s question: are supply teacher and cover supervisor complementary or conflicting roles?   

TES Connect forums have been flooded with concerns raised by supply teachers who claim to have been adversely affected by schools’ use of cover supervisors. 

The role was created to provide short-term supervisory cover for absent teachers, in response to the workload agreement of 2003. Cover supervisors were introduced in a bid to reduce the amount of time teachers in schools spend covering classes for absent teachers.  There is specific guidance on the role:

  • Cover supervisors are not allowed to teach and should only supervise the class by handing out and collecting pre-set work
  • They should be suitably experienced but do not need to be qualified teachers
  • They should only cover for a short term period, usually no longer than three days where a class is normally taught by one teacher.
  • Headteachers need to assess whether the use of cover supervisors will affect student learning, how long they should be deployed, and monitor the amount of time that individual subjects have needed cover supervisors.

Some supply teachers say that as a consequence, they have been forced to work as cover supervisors at a lower pay rate, while others are now claiming job seekers’ allowance. However, other supply teachers say that they haven’t been affected and that the impact has been exaggerated.

Are the roles complementary or contradictory? Here are some thoughts from the school community:

“The rise of cover supervisor posts has helped teachers in post but worked against the supply market.  The start of the autumn term is a quiet time for supply work as schools are fully staffed, unlike in the past, and some supply teachers have yet to adapt to the change in their market value.

“Schools are, of course, saving money on cheaper cover supervisors that can be spent elsewhere.”
Professor John Howson, managing director of Education Data Surveys

“Sadly, I have been forced to take a temporary job outside of teaching because my county council is now using cover supervisors for teacher absences lasting less than half a term. Previous to this policy, I enjoyed continuous supply work as a secondary school teacher.  It’s affected the agency I used which now advises supply teachers to sign on for job seeker’s allowance (JSA) or leave the supply market.

In fact, I had to resort to working as a cover supervisor at a school which had previously employed me as a supply teacher.  It was paid at a much lower rate.  I was told not to call myself ‘teacher’ even though I am fully qualified with years of experience!

This policy has nothing to do with raising the quality of education. It is about finding the cheapest option, reducing education to the lowest common denominator and turning teaching from a profession to an insecure, temp dominated joke. What next? Cover Headteachers?”
Gary Simmonds,  supply teacher


“What if a child gets stuck on a question and needs the skill of a teacher to help him understand any difficult concepts?  How can an unqualified person help him?  Also, if cover supervisors have been told not to teach, will they just ignore him? 

“I think if teacher absences are an issue, then the government needs to sort why this is.  If teachers are stressed, then tackle this and it should result in fewer absences and less need for these glorified baby sitters.”

Tanya Murray, parent to Sam aged six years


“I am extremely concerned about this matter and have written to my MP and Jim Knight, schools minister.

“Lack of supply work has forced me into claiming job seekers’ allowance.

“So far this term, I have had one day’s supply work from a school which told me that they employ six cover supervisors and they only use supply teachers in an emergency. 

“I know that cover supervisors and higher learning assistants are actually teaching children in schools on a regular basis.  Sadly, I also know of a qualified teacher with a PHD who has just accepted a job as a cover supervisor to make ends meet.

“That’s bad for him, but great for the school because they get a qualified teacher on the cheap. 

“I sometimes wonder why I bothered to go to university or train to be a teacher now that my livelihood has been taken away from me. It’s also a waste of taxpayers’ money to train teachers who are not given the chance to contribute to the system.”

Jane Barker-MacKenzie, supply teacher

Please post your comments below.

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