The cover crisis is now a major issue for primary, special and nursery heads all over Scotland. At their recent annual meeting, members of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland angrily expressed their frustration that, despite warnings, headteachers are still unable to access supply teachers and are having to cancel teacher in-service and curriculum development work and cover classes themselves.
Also, being forced into frontline cover for absent classroom teachers means that necessary management duties are either being postponed or are just not happening.
Now, for the first time, HMI agrees and has observed that "standards have been affected by the lack of supply teachers". There is a growing awareness that, as 22.5-hour class contact is established, the situation has the potential to deteriorate further.
Some colleagues have had to cover classes for months at a time. This is likely to be further exacerbated by the recent national commitment towards involving primary teachers in S1 and S2. It seems that colleges do not have the capacity to address growing shortages and demands, and the Scottish Executive Education Department's recent claim that 1,000 new teachers would be sufficient to address future needs was received with incredulity. There is a view that 3,000 may be nearer the mark.
We have been taking legal advice about our members' employment rights and employers' duties and responsibilities. There is also a commonsense argument which would support our stand that employees cannot be expected to do two jobs at once.
The time has come for us to decide what are reasonable expectations of our post and at what point a situation becomes unacceptable. For many of us, especially teaching heads, this means providing no cover at all.
AHTS agrees with many of the long-term solutions recommended by a recent report commissioned by SEED on The Management of Supply Cover in the Teaching Profession. However, our concern is for the current health and quality of life of our membership.
Managing contemporary schools is extremely complex, demanding and time consuming. We wish to do this job to the best of our ability. However, headteachers cannot cover for absent colleagues as well.
Our membership would not like to see certain European practices arrive in Scotland, such as part-time education and sending classes home. Nor would we like our members to be forced into increased absence as a result of stress and illness.
Kay Hall. President, AHTS