Supply teaching in Wales: Plenary debate

5 February 2016

Article by Sian Hughes, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

This is a picture of the Assembly chamber

Assembly Members will next week (Wednesday 10 February 2016) debate the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s report on Supply Teaching (pdf 1.20MB). The Committee undertook an inquiry into supply teaching in Wales beginning in March and published its report in December 2015. This followed on from reports by the Wales Audit Office (pdf 648KB) and Estyn (pdf 789KB) about teacher absence which estimated that just under 10 per cent of all lessons were being covered by staff who were not the usual class teacher.

The Committee’s report will be debated in Plenary on 10 February 2016. The Welsh Government published its response (pdf 309KB) on 3 February 2016.

The Committee received oral and written evidence from a range of stakeholders. The Committee also undertook a survey with children and young people and parents (pdf 955KB).

The main issues identified during the inquiry included:

  • the use of supply teachers as a consequence of teacher illness and associated issues of absence management for permanent teachers;
  • support for Newly Qualified Teachers who are working as supply staff;
  • the potential effect on pupil outcomes as a result of the use of supply teachers;
  • Continuing Professional Development and performance management;
  • the role of local authorities and regional consortia in oversight of supply teachers;
  • supply agencies and quality assurance;
  • a shortage of adequately trained Welsh-medium supply teachers.

Overarching recommendation

Overall, the Committee agreed that many of these issues could be addressed if there were closer arrangements between the employers of supply teachers and those with responsibility for providing school education. Therefore, the Committee made an overarching recommendation which called on the Welsh Government to look at a range of options for the employment of supply teachers, including cluster arrangements operated by local authorities or through a national body.

In all, the Committee made 22 recommendations.

Minister’s response

The Minister’s for Education and Skills, Huw Lewis’ response was published on 3 February 2016. He accepted all the recommendations, either wholly or in principle and said that he supported the intent of those that would require further consideration.

The Minister accepted the overarching recommendation in principle and supported the direction of the recommendation. He said that it aligns with the Welsh Government’s consultation exploring ways of alternative delivery models across the public service in Wales. The Welsh Government has made a commitment to continue to explore options for delivery models for the provision of supply teachers.

Government guidance

Just as the inquiry was drawing to a conclusion, the Welsh Government published guidance, Effective management of school workforce attendance (pdf 487KB) (July 2015). The Committee’s consideration took the revised guidance into account and a number of recommendations referred to the new guidance. In particular, the Committee agreed that a future Estyn thematic review could evaluate the effectiveness of the guidance.

Two of the areas of recommendations made related to CPD and sickness absence:

CPD and Performance Management

One of the main areas of concern that arose from evidence was how supply teachers access continuing professional development (CPD). The Committee made six recommendations in this area.

The Committee heard that there is little access to CPD for supply teachers and cost can be a problem. Supply teachers may have to pay for their CPD and also miss out on a day’s pay in order to attend training. It was also evident that the CPD available to supply teachers may not necessarily reflect the Welsh Government’s priorities for education.

School Development Plans are required to set out schools’ provision for addressing professional learning for staff, including those temporarily at the school. However, the Committee believed these were clearly focused upon permanent staff within a school rather than supply teachers, particularly those on shorter-term day-to-day contracts. It was also not clear how the New Deal for the Education Workforce will apply to supply teachers. Amongst the recommendations in relation to CPD, the Committee recommended that mandatory CPD for teachers should be explored and the Welsh Government should clarify how School Development Plans and the New Deal can be used to support the CPD needs of supply teachers.

The Committee also heard that often there is little performance management for supply teachers. Much of the difficulty lies in the legislative process underpinning the system which sets out that where a teacher is employed on a fixed term basis for one school term or more, the school must undertake the performance management process. While agencies may seek and provide feedback on the teachers they employ, the Committee heard that often, performance management is restricted to those teachers who are underperforming

Sickness absence

The Register of Qualified Teachers in Wales, maintained by the Education Workforce Council (EWC), includes almost 5,000 supply teachers in Wales (pdf 240KB), the vast majority of whom are active. An EWC survey found the most common reason for schools employing supply cover was sickness absence. However, the Committee found there was a lack of data in respect of teacher absence generally in Wales. One of the intentions of the new Welsh Government guidance is to provide for more consistent and comparable data. The Committee concluded this should help gain an understanding of the reasons for teacher absence, which can then help in reducing sickness absence and the need for supply cover.

Other recommendations made by the Committee related to:

Impact on outcomes and Welsh Medium – there was little conclusive evidence that the use of supply teachers had an overall adverse effect on pupil attainment, although 80 per cent of the young people in the Committee’s survey believed that they learnt less with a supply teacher than with their usual class teacher. In addition, there may be a greater use of supply teachers in disadvantaged areas. The Committee also heard anecdotal evidence about the potential lack of Welsh medium supply teachers. The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should undertake research in this area.

Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) – the Committee heard that only 3.8 per cent of NQTs who had started and completed their induction had done so whilst working only as a supply teacher and it may be difficult for NQTs to be able to undertake all the types of work they need to evidence that they meet Practising Teacher Standards.

Local authority and consortia – the Committee also heard that current arrangements for local authority and regional consortia oversight of supply teaching were ineffective.

Agencies – The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should consider whether the establishment of a Welsh quality mark would improve quality assurance. A previous Welsh Government Quality Mark stopped in 2011. Following a review it was found that the scheme was limited in its ability to influence the recruitment and management practices of all supply agencies.

The debate on the Committee’s report is scheduled for about 4.00pm on Wednesday 10 February 2016. It can be watched on SeneddTV.

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