Why good communication across a MAT can help solve supply problems

One headteacher explains how her multi-academy trust is tackling increasing cover needs

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A Supply Teacher Working In A MAT

I’m unaware of any schools or academies not adversely affected by reduced funds and increased cover needs at the moment. Staff become ill, are needed at important meetings and have family issues to attend to, for example. Sometimes key roles remained unfilled.

Covering these classes is not optional. We’re not working in an industry where work can be put to one side to be picked up upon return.

Many schools now employ their own cover supervisors; the ideal in-house solution for short-term absence. Children recognise them, they’re not strangers, they know the systems and build relationships with their pupils.

However, they are rarely ideal longer-term solutions. They’re not teachers, after all, and supervising classes requires someone else to set the work, monitor the quality and assess the work afterwards. It adds to the workload of already overworked middle leaders at a time when they are stressed about missing colleagues.

Working together when using agencies

Temporary employment of teachers from a supply agency can be expensive and the quality can be variable. Being part of a multi-academy trust, we are able to negotiable better rates than if we were on our own.

We are also able to build a customer relationship with the account manager to enable us to frame our expectations more clearly. And we are able to use teachers across more than one site, making sure we’re not doubling up on cover.

This is only possible by ensuring good communication between schools, and making sure our cover needs are centralised and visible.

My academy is relatively large, but only by working across the MAT can the best solutions be found. One of my strongest science teachers is recuperating after a shoulder operation and this leaves key GCSE groups without a teacher at a critical time of the year.

Sharing specialists

Luckily our MAT shares a small group of lead practitioners and the science specialist has been able to spend some additional time with us.

Not only does she provide much-needed reliable cover, she leads larger lectures, walking-talking mocks and show lessons; not only do I trust her to deliver excellent teaching and learning but she is modelling great pedagogy to other staff when classes are combined.

This doesn’t happen by accident. It is just one of the strategies employed by the trust to improve the quality of provision – and someone is in charge.

Elly is our shared vice-principal across the trust and one aspect of her role is to coordinate the use of lead practitioners between the academies.

To aid this, it is essential that she is visible in each of the academies every week, liaising with key staff and better understanding the needs of our very different schools.

Future proofing against shortages

An advert for a drama, PE or art teacher might get a high number of applicants, but adverts for the Engligh Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects often prove less fruitful; there just aren’t as many scientists and mathematicians out there.

One initiative that Elly has introduced is to employ three non-EBacc NQTs with high potential to become future leaders. As they complete their NQT year, half their time is in their specialist subject and half is in an EBacc subject of their choosing.

We have two PE teachers upskilling in science and an art teacher with a strong animation background, who is training in computing. These excellent and driven professionals have their 6-8 week placements in each of the academies agreed in advance with Elly.

That means we are not simply throwing people in at the deep end and, as well as building strong leaders for the future, we have a pool of our own for longer-term supply needs.

Only by working collaboratively have we been able to make this work. It is about investing in people, building a sustainable future and responding to our ever-changing needs as swiftly as we can. And that means doing things a little differently.

Keziah Featherstone is headteacher of Q3 Academy Tipton, part of the Querere Academy Trust in Sandwell.  She is a co-founder and national leader for #WomenEd and has co-edited the recently published #WomenEd book, 10% Braver.  Also a member of the Headteachers Roundtable, she tweets as @keziah70

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