Where does ‘supervision’ end and ‘teaching’ begin?
Teaching assistants are an invaluable resource within schools and colleges. They provide vital support to teachers and play a crucial role in students’ learning experiences.
Recent news of schools being forced to axe more teaching assistants is extremely concerning, to say the least. In a DfE-commissioned report, cited by Schools Week, over half of the 60 schools polled said they had to cut the number of TAs they hired over the last three years, or were planning to.
Many schools said they had limited TA numbers to make sure they were being utilised ‘efficiently and effectively.’ Though, a majority also reported having to make more changes to TA deployment due to funding constraints, and said that they were very worried about this.
Going above and beyond
We all hope to see a time when schools and colleges are no longer having their funding squeezed, forcing them to make decisions they know will impact the quality of teaching across the entire institution.
TAs provide a lifeline to teaching staff, often going beyond the call of duty in the classroom to support teachers. As a TA, you may have in the past had to cover for a teacher’s short-term absence from the classroom – but there remains some confusion as to where supervision ends, and teaching begins. What’s expected of you as a TA? What does the legislation say?
A useful guide from Unison helps to clear the air around when and how cover supervision should be used in the classroom. Here’s a rundown of the key points:
What exactly is cover supervision?
Cover supervision is required for a teacher’s short-term, last-minute absence from a class. Students carry out a pre-prepared exercise under supervision, but no actual teaching takes place. The cover supervisor’s duties can be summed-up as follows:
- Supervise the work set on the lesson plan provided, using the provided resources.
- Manage student behaviour in line with the school or college’s policy.
- Deal with issues or emergencies in line with policies and procedures.
- Gather completed work at the end of the lesson to pass on to the teacher.
- Report any problems back to the teacher.
Some employers have misinterpreted or ignored agreed procedures relating to cover supervision. This could be due to recent governments revoking, weakening or archiving guidance created to help schools effectively deploy support staff, as well as their desire to increase autonomy and grant more local decision-making powers to academies and senior leaders.
There have been cases where schools and colleges have tried to expand what supervision entails, for example by requiring staff to cover more complex work over longer time periods. The report notes how this isn’t appropriate, and advises staff to get in touch with union representatives if they feel like they are being asked to go beyond their contracted responsibilities.
Undertaking cover supervision
As a TA, you can undertake cover supervision so long as you have the right level of skills and training. The NJC model role profiles for TAs states that staff involved in cover supervision should possess skills and knowledge at NVQ3 or equivalent.
You should have received the necessary training by your school or college in order to undertake cover supervision. This means you should be familiar with policies relating to health and safety, behaviour management, equal opportunities and special education needs and disabilities.
Your training should include an induction session, dedicated sessions throughout the academic year, observation sessions and continuing professional development (CPD).
Pre-prepared work vs specified work
Here’s where cover supervision differs from teaching. Cover supervision is defined as a level three activity requiring you to supervise pre-prepared work put together by the teacher. It’s different from level four ‘specified work,’ which involves planning and preparing lessons, delivering them and reporting on student progress.
Support staff paid at level four can only undertake ‘specified work’ if it’s to support a qualified teacher who both directs and supervises it.
Who to contact
If you feel pressured to undertake duties that don’t fall within your remit, you can raise incidents of bad practice with your local Unison branch or representative. You can get in touch with Unison if you’ve been asked to cover classes and have any questions or concerns.
Read Unison’s full guide on cover supervision here.