How to create the perfect cover lesson

'Carry on with classwork’ won't cut it, writes Gemma Corby - everyone benefits from the effort to create meaningful cover work

cover lessons

I’m not sure about you, but I don’t recall any advice from my training days on how to set cover. 

Admittedly, I did train before the invention of the horseless carriage, but my experience working as a supply teacher over the past term suggests that not much has changed. 


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Here are five easy steps teachers can take to support their supply colleagues so that cover lessons are meaningful, productive and stress free. 

Set some cover

At the risk of stating the obvious, actually setting some cover is a good first step. I once covered, or attempted to cover, a Year 9 drama class in an all-boys school, where the instruction from the teacher was for them to “carry on with their performance pieces”. 

Being a quick-witted bunch, they tried to convince me that they had been re-enacting scenes from Crimestoppers. Unsurprisingly, this turned out to be a massive fib. For some classes, carrying on with tasks can be appropriate, but make sure there is plenty for them to be getting on with. 

The worst phrase a cover teacher can hear is “We’ve done this before, Sir/Miss”. Ensure that the work is distinctly different from previous work.

Include everyone

Ensure that any young people with additional needs are highlighted to the cover teacher; ideally, an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a brief outline of their difficulties/support strategies should be provided. 

The set work should also be accessible to all. Sitting in silence and writing an essay for an hour might not be practical for everyone, so think about alternative work in those instances. 

Try technology

Setting a DVD for a cover lesson can be great if used in the right way. Include some discussion points, key questions or even a worksheet to accompany the film, otherwise students may misinterpret it as a bit of a doss.

Avoid if you need a degree in audio engineering just to get the speakers to turn on. 

Make contingency plans

Keep a bank of cover work in your department office in case an absent member of staff is unable to set work. This will save a lot of stress in the long run. 

Prepare for the aftermath

What happens after the cover lesson is just as important as what happens before and during. Provide an opportunity for the cover teacher to feed back – whether positively or negatively – and follow up on these comments, even if it is a brief “well done”. 

If student conduct has not met with expectations during the cover lesson, ensure that the school’s behaviour policy is adhered to. This is really important as it sends out a clear message that all staff are working together.

It is also helpful if cover staff are able to award merits or send postcards home. This is particularly effective for getting younger students on board. 

Finally, if supply staff are working at your school for an extended period, don’t forget to include them in any end-of-term or whole-school activities. 

Gemma Corby is a freelance writer and former Sendco

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