How to soldier on in a shortage

27th April 2001 at 01:00
Desperate heads are advertising for ex-Forces personnel to supervise classes when teachers are away. Nic Barnard reports.

IT worked against foot-and-mouth, it worked in the ambulance strike, and now some schools are trying it in the great cover crisis of 2001. When all else fails, call in the army.

In a move that has infuriated unions, schools in Portsmouth and West Sussex are looking to their large pool of local ex-servicemen and women to provide classroom cover.

Initially working in pairs, they will invigilate exams and supervise classes when teachers are ill, training, or carrying out other duties such as observing colleagues for performance management. When they are more confident, they may work solo.

Six of the "study supervisers" started intensive training this week at City of Portsmouth Boys school, which last term had to send pupils home because of supply shortages. Bishop Luffa school in Chichester is running a similar scheme. Portsmouth was one of the authorities hit by the recent union no-cover action.

The schools ran classified adverts in local papers calling for "those who have worked in schools, the forces, (or) youth work" to fill the pound;10,000-a-year pro rata posts. Portsmouth has one of the country's largest naval bases, and Thorney Island army base lies midway between the city and Chichester.

Two ex-service eople are among the six taken on at City Boys.

The National Union of Teachers called the move "misguided" and said it raised questions about who would be ultimately responsible for pupils.

But head Ann Greatorex said she had planned the scheme since before she took over in January after seeing it work elsewhere. "The aim is to take stress off teachers," she said.

"They will be under the charge of a senior member of staff. Heads of department already set work when somebody is absent and they will still have to do that," she said.

Keith Gardiner, secretary of Portsmouth NUT, said the school was hiring unqualified people to do jobs that called for supply teachers.

"We understand why schools are trying to alleviate the problems of cover. But there is a limit.

"Who plans their work? Who keeps an eye on the lessons? Who chases up disciplinary problems?" Commander Clive Lewis, naval resettlement information officer at Portsmouth which deals with two-thirds of the UK's retiring sailors, said the job would be ideal for many ex-servicemen.

City Boys hopes some study supervisors will go on to train as teachers. However, one ex-soldier who is now a teacher, told The TES: "Being both a soldier and a teacher, I can tell you teaching is more time-consuming and stressful than what was expected of me as a frontline soldier."

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