Whilst researching attachment theory from the perspective of the supply teacher recently, I made some calculations on the number of pupils cared for by either a permanent teacher or supply teacher.
A typical primary school teacher in Wales will care for around 30 pupils over the period of an academic year. A casual supply teacher will care for five times that many pupils in a week. And in a month, twenty times the number of pupils.
In a secondary school, I made some calculations looking at previous timetables where I’ve worked at a secondary school for a term or more and covered a permanently contracted member of staff’s timetable. With an average class size at 25 pupils per class, I calculate that a secondary school teacher with a full timetable will care for approximately 300 pupils in a week. A secondary supply teacher working on casual basis, for example doing general cover, working at schools with a 6 lesson day and a registration group to take, will care for approximately 900 pupils in a week, or 3600 in a month. This is based on a timetable doing general cover work, with no ‘PPA’ or other lesson breaks, where every lesson is different.
These are, of course, the upper range of estimates. But even if the secondary supply teacher taught every class twice, it would still mean that the supply teacher cared for 1800 pupils in a month. And if the primary school supply teacher taught every class twice in a month, it would mean they still cared for ten times the number of pupils as the permanent teacher.
Given the emotional labour involved in teaching, what are the implications for the health of the supply teacher dealing with such a volume of relationships?
For children to succeed in schools they need consistent care from people they are familiar with, therefore what are the implications for the quality of learning received by the school children when their supply teacher (a) may know very little about them because they are one pupil amongst the many they will meet that month, (b) is probably exhausted and stressed by the demands placed on them as a supply, (c) likely to be demoralised by the low pay they receive for their professional work?
And for me, this is the six million dollar question, is the role of Supply Teacher and Teacher essentially two different professional roles? Initial Teacher Training programmes in Wales prepare teachers only for the latter, but the reality is that 15% of the 35,000 registered teachers in Wales work as supply teachers. Also, some of these supply teacher will never become permanently contracted teachers in their professional lifetime.
And finally… mixed messages from the Welsh Assembly …
In the National Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee’s Mind over Matter report, it was argued a ‘step change’ was needed in the provision of emotional and mental health support for young people. Would it not be a step change to work towards an educational system in Wales where consistent care of pupils and staff was a central ethos? That’s a very basic but excellent starting point.