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Express & Star comment: Pupils are paying the price of teacher sickness

By Star Comment | Opinions | Published:

Missing school is a big problem – and in this case, we’re not talking about the pupils.

We’re talking about the teachers.

Across the region you will be surprised by the number of school days which are being lost through teachers being off sick. And if the teachers are off sick, then somebody still has to teach the students.

That’s where supply teachers are parachuted in to plug the gaps.

The consequence of that is that a second problem arises, that of costs.

According to a Department for Education estimate, drawing on supply teacher agencies costs schools up to £75 million nationally.

With an average daily rate of £124, they don’t come cheap, and then there are fees on top from the agencies, which are under fire amid allegations that they cream off millions of pounds every year from schools, charging them substantial fees while paying the actual supply teachers meanly.

The rise of the power and influence of the agencies is underlined by the claim by the National Education Union that 81 per cent of supply teachers now get work through agencies, whereas in 2010 only half did so.

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A natural first response would be to blame the agencies and accuse them of ripping off the system. That’s too easy though. If it is happening, then the agencies are doing it because they can, and if they can and are, then something is wrong with the system and it needs to be tightened up.

There is plenty of scope for doing so when, across the county of Shropshire, 489 days are being lost in schools every week of the school year. In Wolverhampton, Sandwell, and Dudley, the figures are 308, 421, and 286 respectively.

Apart from the cost in financial terms, there is an educational cost through the lack of continuity of teaching. An established teacher knows what they have taught and he or she has hopefully established a rapport with the class.

A supply teacher covering a gap has all the disadvantages faced by any newcomer to a class.

In an ideal world, schools would not need to go down the supply teacher route.

However, in the real world, they may not have the resources to do so. A solution? Schools having more teachers, and schools having fewer teachers going off sick. If only.

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