Norfolk schools teaching on the cheap?

Steve DownesHigh schools in Norwich are employing a growing army of unqualified staff to look after lessons, an investigation has revealed.Steve Downes

High schools in Norwich are employing a growing army of unqualified staff to look after lessons, an investigation has revealed.

As many as 180 cover supervisors are employed in the 52 high schools in Norfolk, taking classes when teachers are absent or busy. They include scores who are working in and around the city.

The supervisors, who earn considerably less than qualified teachers at �14,000-19,000 per year, are only supposed to hand out lesson plans prepared by teachers, and to maintain order.

But a former headteacher, who was employed last term as a cover supervisor at Sheringham High, said it was 'impossible' for them to avoid taking on the role of teacher at times.

And one Norfolk union leader accused some Norfolk headteachers of using the cover supervisors as 'the cheap option', saving them the expense of qualified supply teachers, who can cost up to �200 a day.

Tony Callaghan, who lives in Norfolk but spent most of his teaching career in Bedfordshire, said: 'I wonder how many parents realise that when their youngsters come home from secondary school and say they had a 'new teacher today', that new teacher may not be a teacher at all.'

Most Read

The increase in cover supervisors has come about because of an agreement between schools, the government and major teaching unions that qualified teachers should 'rarely cover' for absent staff - ie only in exceptional circumstances.

Jonathan Dunning, county secretary for Unison, said: 'As a union we are happy with the agreement about what cover supervisors should and should not be doing. But in practice I fear in some schools it doesn't operate like that. There are cases where cover supervisors are used as a cheap option, which comes because they are considerably cheaper to employ.'

There is also evidence that many schools are breaching one of the conventions of the agreement, which is that cover supervisors should not take classes for more than three consecutive days.

Of the schools that responded to a freedom of information request, 16 admitted they had used the staff in such a way in 2008/9 - with a total of 143 occasions where the three-day limit was passed. Six said they could not access the information and 11 failed to answer the request. Figures included:

t Wymondham College - seven cover supervisors (19 occasions where cover supervised took classes for more than three consecutive days)

t The Hewett School, Norwich - seven (three times)

t City of Norwich School - six (11 times)

t Notre Dame High - four (seven times)

t Attleborough High - five (seven times)

Mr Callaghan said that during his time at Sheringham High he 'struggled'. He said: 'I felt compelled to prepare for the work left by absent teachers and often didn't have the time or opportunity to do so. How could I answer the questions or deal with the problems raised by the students if I had little or no knowledge of the subject matter?'

Tim Roderick, headteacher at Sheringham High, said: 'These staff are fully trained and supported. They manage classroom activities and behaviour and give students pre-set work to carry out, under supervision.'

t What do you think? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1 RE or email