There are a number of differences in the way a school and a Sixth Form College deal with staff absence that you will notice.
This is mainly due to the difficulty and amount of work that is required both in and out of the classroom at College. Students will need to take control of their own learning and are expected to complete at least 4.5 hours of independent study in addition to their lessons for each of their subjects. The teacher/ staff will guide them with this and identify work to be completed. There is also an expectation the student sets aside time for revision, review and completion of wider learning activities.
This in turn changes the way that short staff absence is managed - whilst it may be the case that colleagues can support classes that are unsupervised, we do not 'cover' lessons at the College -this is usual practice for a Sixth Form College and different to the experience of school where all teacher absences are covered, usually by a cover supervisor. There are a number of reasons for this. Namely, cover teachers with the level of skill and expertise required are not readily available via teaching agencies, it takes time to find the right person and complete the required checks. We also know that having a 'non-expert' has proven to be an ineffective use of the student's time; students report to us they do not like coming in to College to be ‘supervised’ by a non-subject specialist.
We compensate for this in a number of ways. Firstly, we deliver an above average amount of teaching in terms of time, 10% more than other providers. Our term dates are also longer than the majority of schools and colleges. However most importantly we expect that our students are able to take responsibility and use any staff absence time to work independently.
If a teacher is unexpectedly absent for a short period of time:
- An SMS and email from the college notifying them that their teacher will not be present will be sent. We will notify students at the earliest possible opportunity.
- This will not be before 8.30am on the day owing to our support teams not starting work until then. We know that for those with an 8.55am lesson this can be a source of frustration but we urge you to understand that we get the message to you asap that day and that there will be work set that can be completed in the lesson time.
- An email detailing the work to be completed during the lesson time will be sent. This work will have been set by the teacher and is designed to enable the students to work independently on a task pertinent to their current work. Teachers are asked to provide work sufficiently challenging for the subject with guidance on what to do if a student is struggling.
- It is important to remember that if a staff member is absent it is often because they are too poorly to come in to work and, as such, there may be occasion when they are too unwell to set work. In this instance the Director of Faculty will work as quickly as they can with the course team to create and set the work. Again, your understanding that we are working as quickly as we can is appreciated.
- Students may be expected to attend the class to use certain resources and complete tasks, however this is not always the case. Students will be advised either way. It should not be taken by the student that the receipt of an SMS/email is notice that a lesson is ‘cancelled’. This is not the case, we do not cancel lessons, they are unsupervised learning episodes.
- It is important all students utilise the time and take responsibility for completing the work set as part of their on-going study programme.
What happens if a teacher’s absence is prolonged?
Upon official confirmation, by way of a note from a medical practitioner, that a teaching colleague will be absent for a prolonged period of time (2 weeks +) the College will arrange for appropriately qualified and experienced cover for all lessons. It should be appreciated that this process takes time, during the interim the actions detailed above will be in place.
In these circumstances we work closely with fellow colleagues in the team to endeavour to increase the amount of supervision in classes. Our teams will support as best they can, around their own timetable and personal commitments, to ensure some (if not all) lessons have teacher led supervision.
Whilst very rare, we recognise that there can be a circumstance in which a high number of lessons have been affected for the same subject over a period of time/number of occurrences.
We wish to reassure you that we do have a robust process in place for absence management. The welfare of our colleagues is very important to us and thus on return to work they meet with their line manager to discuss their absence, the work set etc.
The Head of Teaching, Learning and Assessment, Director of Faculty and course team continuously monitor impact of absence on student progress and learning. If it is felt that the student group have been adversely affected by teacher absence, then arrangements are made to create additional sessions and revision days at a key time of the year. The Director of Faculty will be in contact with both the students and their parent/carers to keep them updated on the situation and, as appropriate and timely, plans for ‘making up time’ in the future.
Evidence suggests that on the rare occasions in which the College has utilised this strategy, the impact on learning and outcomes is a positive one and students achieve in line with expectations.