School seeks cover on the cheap

17th October 2003 at 01:00
A Devon secondary will be testbed for the workload deal after advertising for a class supervisor. Helen Ward and William Stewart report

A secondary school has advertised for a "class supervisor" who needs no formal qualifications and will be paid pound;7.64 an hour, to take classes while teachers are away.

Roger Pope, principal of Kingsbridge community college, Devon, said that his budget did not allow him to employ a teacher to cover absences.

"We need somebody to cover classes virtually every lesson of the day," he said. "I have to find a way to do this within my budget. What I am trying to do is find ways of reducing teacher workload in the school while still maintaining the quality to students. If this enables me to do that then I will go with it."

The National Union of Teachers, which has embarked on industrial action at an Oldham school employing a similar tactic, has condemned the move. But the union's school representative has said his members are "happy" to go ahead.

Under the workload agreement classroom assistants are allowed to take whole classes from this term. One of the main aims of the deal, signed by the Government, employers and unions in January, is to reduce the cover that teachers have to provide for sickness and absence. A limit of 38 hours a year will be set from September next year and schools are already supposed to be working towards this.

The agreement lists "cover supervisors" as one way of achieving this, provided they are trained and are used only for short-term absences.

Sixty members of the NUT, the only major union not to sign the workload deal, at the Radclyffe school in Oldham, are refusing to prepare, plan, mark or assess lessons taken by four learning managers that the school had employed to cover for absent teachers.

This week the union placed an advert in a local paper asking parents at the school "Who will teach your child today?"

But there appears to be little prospect of similar action at the Devon school. The biggest teaching union at Kingsbridge - the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, is an enthusiastic supporter of the agreement and has said it has no objection providing the supervisor is properly trained and used only for short-term cover.

Ian Woodason, NUT representative at the school, said: "We are monitoring the situation but are happy to go ahead at the moment. We are not that bothered. It is a new position so we will see how it goes."

But John Bangs, NUT head of education, said: "I am opposed to the appointment of cover supervisors. They are about getting cover on the cheap and there are educational issues as well."

Mr Pope said: "We are firmly committed to the policy that classes that need to be taught will be taught, and there is absolutely no question of putting non-qualified people into a situation where there should be a qualified teacher.

"What we're attempting to do here is a pilot. We are dipping our toe into the water and seeing what sort of person we might be able to recruit. I'm aware of the sensitivity of the issue and what I am trying to do is feel our way into this."

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