The rarely cover 'liberation' oppresses us all

11th September 2009 at 01:00

When the Peruvian rebels the Shining Path were threatening to shoot touring backpackers like me in the 1980s, I still quietly respected them for their cool choice of name.

I also admired the disarming resonance of the Singing Revolution in Estonia, Georgia's Revolution of Roses, and the Ladies in White in Cuba.

Compare and contrast with the name of the latest movement for emancipation in our world - 'Rarely Cover', the new agreement under which teachers are no longer required to cover colleagues' lessons unless there are unforeseen circumstances. Somehow, I cannot envisage a fountain of radical poetry, art and song springing forth as a result of the great rarely cover liberation.

Sadly, rarely cover's shortcomings go beyond just its name. Admittedly, the thought of not having to cover lessons seems enticing. It is infuriating to discover that your only "non-contact" of the day has been replaced with a tedious hour supervising some dodgy set work with a class of excitable Year 8s.

But at what price is this new-found freedom? Crucially, the agreement was made without any compensatory promise of extra money for school budgets. So schools - already short of money - will now have to find ways of making up for the extra cost of more supply and resident cover teachers, and of restricting the need for such cover in the first place.

Many schools are already responding by cutting back on school trips - the very experiences that add such vitality, depth and everlasting memories in this exam-focused world. It is perhaps the last adieu for your French exchange trip, the final whistle for school-time sports fixtures and the final curtain for school productions in which staff depend on cover for some rehearsals.

One possible solution is to arrange these extra-curricular initiatives at the very last minute - emergency extra rehearsals, surprise cup matches and the like. Then they might be deemed unforeseeable and we could happily proceed as before.

More realistically, if a school wishes to keep all its trips and other enriching extras, it will have to look at other ways of making rarely cover affordable. Perhaps some of your departing colleagues will not be replaced this year and you will find your class sizes increasing, or you may eventually find that you have an additional lesson to teach each week - an especially ironic and disappointing outcome.

I can also foresee several ridiculous, time-consuming arguments in schools this year over "foreseeable absence". Some will argue that everything in life is essentially "foreseeable" and that "rarely cover" therefore means "never cover". It is, for instance, quite foreseeable that large numbers of teaching staff are about to be struck down with swine flu this autumn. Should we therefore assume that any headteacher worth their salt has already splashed out on a small herd of swine flu superhero cover teachers, incubated in a small pen in the staffroom and permanently on standby?

Snow is apparently also foreseeable under the terms of the agreement. You may be safely in school that morning and be able and willing to cover for snowbound colleagues, but the rarely cover liberation will not let you.

Stephen Petty, Head of humanities, Lord Williams's School, Thame, Oxfordshire.

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