Rage, reworking and rebuttals – a glimpse into the 'hell' of organising cover lessons

An assistant headteacher offers a glimpse into the most challenging part of her job: arranging cover for absent teachers

Elizabeth Hackling

How to create a school timetable without upsetting your teachers

It's six o’clock. The only noise apart from the cleaner’s tuneless whistle is the dreaded sound of the ‘absence phone’ ringing. Silently, I pray for it to be a wrong number.

As the answerphone kicks in, I ponder what new reason it will be today. Will it be a standard "D and V" or something more unexpected, something more exotic?

A staff member once called in sick for a week because their cat had scratched their hands so badly. This led to him getting the slightly pornstar nickname of "Pussy Hands".

Another had left me a message to say they had the first-world problem of "my electric gates are stuck and I can’t get the car out". If only I had been there to answer the phone to remind them the bus stop was right outside their house…

The greatest messages are the short and sweet ones. As a cover supervisor, I don’t want to hear that it’s coming out both ends and a weird shade of green.

Supply issues

Back to the present, I am now a staff member down and I still have 20 minutes before the supply agency are in. I contemplate who they will send this time. Will they be any good? Or will I get another like the one that called the children “inbreds” and who we asked to leave at break?

I check the system. The member of staff off ill only has two periods. I can’t justify the cost of a supply teacher for that amount of time.

Tentatively, I click the button to see who is available for those periods and, to my dismay, the only staff available are the ones who will vocalise their opinions freely when they see that yellow box on sims appear. I will the phone to ring again: one more sick person and I can get that supply. I don’t want that dreaded conversation today. Cover – it really isn’t the most enjoyable part of my job.

Then at 7.29 the phone rings again – with a minute to go, I’m saved. But it’s late now, the supply pickings will be slim. I resign myself to the fact that the person coming through the door is likely to be that same supply teacher we had to send home at break...

Elizabeth Hacking is assistant headteacher at the Bridge Learning Campus

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Elizabeth Hackling

Elizabeth Hackling is assistant headteacher at Bridge Learning Campus

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