Pupil progress in Wales hampered by teacher absence

17 Sep 2013 - 12:00am

Reports issued by Wales Audit Office and Estyn highlight increasing reliance on support and cover staff in the classroom  

Reports published today by the Wales Audit Office and Estyn have found that arrangements for covering teachers' absence in Welsh schools do not support learners' progress sufficiently nor provide the best use of resources.

A team from Estyn and the Wales Audit Office (WAO) visited 23 primary and secondary schools, meeting with learners, head teachers and supply teachers.
They also carried out surveys, interviews and data analysis. 

The reports highlight an increased involvement of supply teachers and cover staff in the delivery of pupils' education, with just under 10% of lessons now covered by staff who are not the usual class teacher. This has a financial impact for schools and also hampers learners' progress in developing their skills, knowledge and understanding.

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Pupil progress in wales hampered by teacher absence

Reports issued by Wales Audit Office and Estyn highlight increasing reliance on support and cover staff in the classroom

Reports published today by the Wales Audit Office and Estyn have found that arrangements for covering teachers' absence in Welsh schools do not support learners' progress sufficiently nor provide the best use of resources.

A team from Estyn and the Wales Audit Office (WAO) visited 23 primary and secondary schools, meeting with learners, head teachers and supply teachers.
They also carried out surveys, interviews and data analysis. 

The reports highlight an increased involvement of supply teachers and cover staff in the delivery of pupils' education, with just under 10% of lessons now covered by staff who are not the usual class teacher. This has a financial impact for schools and also hampers learners' progress in developing their skills, knowledge and understanding.

The Estyn report found that learners make less progress when their usual class teacher is absent and their behaviour is often worse. Teaching by supply staff not employed by the school is often less effective because these staff do not know enough about the needs of the pupils they teach. The pace of lessons can also be slow and expectations too low. 

In most primary schools, short-term cover is usually provided by staff who are employed at the school and are familiar with the children's needs. But in secondary schools, the impact of teachers' absence can be greater. The work set is often too undemanding and does not engage learners. 11-14 year-olds are more likely to have their learning disrupted because schools make an effort to secure better cover arrangements for examination classes.

The WAO found that maintained schools in Wales spent an estimated £54 million on classroom supply cover in 2011-12 - an increase of seven per cent since 2008-09 - for reasons such as teachers' sickness, training and attendance at meetings.
Taking account of the increased use of staff from agencies, it is estimated that the number of days' supply cover rose by 10 per cent over the same period.

The WAO report found there is potential for schools to reduce teachers' absence, and the need for cover, through better management and monitoring of sickness absence. The WAO estimates that by reducing levels of teacher sickness absence in Welsh schools to the levels in England, 60,000 fewer days cover would be required - potentially saving £9 million a year.

The WAO report calls for the Welsh Government, local authorities and schools to take greater account of the impact of covered lessons on learners' progress, and to do more to monitor the extent of cover, the quality of covered lessons and the impact on pupils.

Both reports contain recommendations aimed at reducing both the frequency and impact of teachers' absence, including:

  • Improving the management of cover arrangements in schools, including developing polices that focus on learners' progress and more effective use of resources;
  • Improving the quality of teaching and learning in covered lessons by making sure that work is set at an appropriate level; and
  • Providing better access to training and development for supply teachers and increasing access to national training programmes that are available to permanently-employed teachers

Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas, said today:

Today's report shows the increasing reliance on supply staff throughout Wales. To use supply cover efficiently and effectively schools need to better understand the causes of teacher absence and to develop more effective cover arrangements. These actions will not only save schools money but also have a positive impact on pupil attainment.

Ann Keane, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education and Training, said,

It is clear that when the usual class teacher is absent, pupils in primary and secondary schools make less progress. It is vital that the impact of teacher absence is tackled to make sure that the standard of education young people receive is consistently challenging so that no pupils are put at a disadvantage when their classes are covered by a supply teacher.

Notes to Editors:

  • The Estyn report The Impact of Teacher Absence [Opens in new window] has been produced and published in response to a request for advice from the Welsh Government in the Minister for Education and Skills' annual remit letter to Estyn for 2012-2013. It focuses on the impact of cover arrangements on learners' progress.
  • Estyn is the Education and Training Inspectorate for Wales. Our aim is to achieve excellence for all in learning in Wales. We do this by providing an independent, high-quality inspection and advice service.Our vision is to be recognised through the expertise of our staff as an authoritative voice on learning in Wales.
  • The WAO report Covering Teachers' Absence has been produced as part of the Auditor General's programme of value for money studies for the National Assembly for Wales. It assesses the effectiveness of cover arrangements and includes trends in expenditure, how well resources are used and the implications for Welsh Government and local strategies for improving outcomes for learners. 
  • The Wales Audit Office mission is to promote improvement, so that people in Wales benefit from accountable, well-managed public services that offer the best possible value for money. It is also committed to identify and spreading good practice across the Welsh public sector.