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Absent staff - what support can I ask for?

Discussion in 'Workplace dilemmas' started by -myrtille-, Oct 15, 2018.

  1. -myrtille-

    -myrtille- Occasional commenter


    I'm a new (acting, joint) HoD on a maternity cover basis. I've been at the school for 5 years but only took on the HoD role at Easter (jointly with a colleague who is an experienced ex-HoD but works part time).

    In September, we had a new full-time member of staff, and a part-time long-term supply teacher doing the maternity cover. The full-time colleague is ill (serious medical issue, unrelated to the workplace, off for 3 weeks so far). The long-term supply was frequently absent for various last-minute reasons and then said they could not commit to the school and we needed to find someone else.

    The last 3 weeks have been hell. My other colleague is amazing but is part time (0.5), so 2 days per week I have been the only staff member in the department. My other colleague is also organising a school trip (they are away with about 40 kids this week!) which has been very stressful and taken up a lot of their time, so the brunt of the cover responsibilities have fallen to me. On a Friday, I teach all 6 lessons and was also responsible for providing cover for 10 other lessons in total for absent staff members. After parents' evening the night before!

    We do have a bank of cover work, but it still takes time to go through it and find suitable sheets and photocopy them for each group. I'm reluctant to print a booklet of work for 2 weeks or whatever, as in cover lessons things tend to get trashed. I can't rely on resources from 1 lesson still being there for the next, with some groups. I already found my own workload very heavy, without trying to do aspects of 2 other people's jobs. I still teach 24 lessons per week as HoD and every class is different (eg: Y11 French, Y11 Spanish, Y10 French, Y10 Spanish, etc...) so I can't duplicate lessons.

    It's all got too much for me and I ended up crying in the staffroom on Friday (after a really tough lesson with Y11) with other colleagues volunteering to go and cover my lesson so I could have a moment. This is not what I am normally like.

    There might be some light at the end of the tunnel - we have a different long-term supply teacher due to start after this half-term, who worked with us from Easter to July too. They were reliable and I can go back to just sending them my powerpoints rather than photocopying hundreds of worksheets. But I don't know what's happening about the other member of staff who is unwell and that could continue for weeks. This next term is going to be a long hard slog to Christmas.

    Luckily (or unluckily for the next stint...), our half-term is really early so I'm off this week. In term-time, I haven't been able to think long-term, every minute has been taken up with what I need to get done for the following day. So I'd now like your best ideas for how I can manage the cover situation and what support I can ask SLT for. Otherwise at this rate I'll be off sick too.
  2. FrankWolley

    FrankWolley Star commenter

    All I can say is that you need to be 100% honest* with your SLT, explain what you can (& can't do), stress that whatever you do the pupils of your absent colleagues are going to miss out and exam grades will inevitably suffer... Your SLT will need to find, either by local adverts or through an agency at least one experienced MFL specialist to help you. That's the demand I would make.

    Good luck - try to enjoy your half-term and have a good break.

    * Including the fear that you will crack up as well.
  3. englishtt06

    englishtt06 Occasional commenter

    Didn't want to read and run. I don't think the school are obligated to give any additional support; however, they should! You need to meet ASAP with your SLT link and explain what you have set out here. State that it's beginning to affect your health and wellbeing, too, and that additional support is needed. In the short-term, perhaps covering a few of your lessons to give you time to organise your department (yes, I appreciate the irony of saying this as you'll need to set more cover, but if they can even give you 2-3 hours a week to organise your dept that will make things easier for you). Given the current turmoil of your department, no sane SLT would want their only reliable staff member to crumble, too....
    -myrtille- and JohnJCazorla like this.
  4. roydenkeith

    roydenkeith New commenter

    What complete tosh. Being a HoD does not obligate you to do three peoples full time jobs. On a short term emergency basis ,yes, but your circumstances seem different.You should arrange an urgent meeting with your line manager and your joint HoD and explain how you are unable and unwilling to carry on as present If theycan’t provide more support resign from the temp hod role with immediate effect.
  5. englishtt06

    englishtt06 Occasional commenter

    Think you need to get the 'ol reading glasses out and read my entire post before you start mouthing off....
  6. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    I think you need to ask for some support - perhaps you can make a list of suggestions.

    For a start, if you have a tutor group, can that be covered by someone else for a while, so that you have that bit of extra time at the start of the day to make sure cover work is ready.

    You might also make some specific suggestions of a small number of lessons from your timetable that could be covered, to free you for setting work and checking on classes. The best option would be any lessons that fall in the non-contact time of the absent staff - if they're getting in day-to-day supply, they would be able to cover those.

    Although you're obviously the mainstay, you've got the part-timer and now the long-term supply. Perhaps they could take responsibility for setting work for certain groups.

    Obvously if they can get hold of a second good long-term supply, that would help. If they're just going to the cheapest agency, maybe there's an argument for trying a bit harder.
    strawbs and SundaeTrifle like this.
  7. dunnocks

    dunnocks Star commenter

    This sounds like my department

    Actually it sounds like several departments at my school. and like several other local schools

    There are not enough teachers available to teach the lessons required, this seems to hold true for many departments, schools and areas all over the place.

    This is not your problem, you just need to be specific about what hours/duties you can be relied on for, and tell you SMT.

    Anything else is their problem.

    Don't worry about it, your health is more important than your job.
    SundaeTrifle likes this.
  8. -myrtille-

    -myrtille- Occasional commenter

    Thanks - I've not had many meetings with my line manager in the first half-term (due to other things coming up like an HMI inspection and major safeguarding issue - just bad timing). I did speak to the SLT in charge of timetabling/cover who told me the potential good news about long-term supply for after half-term. They do seem to have been trying to find people (we've advertised on TES as well as through agencies) but MFL specialists are like gold dust in our area (hence the fact that we were using agency staff for a 1-year maternity post).

    Thanks for your reply. I think I need to just get better at admitting I can't do things (in advance, rather than at the last minute). In the last few days of this half-term I did tell the person in charge of Y11 interventions that I didn't have the capacity to do a weekly after-school session for Y11 (although I would do short interventions "as needed" (ie: speaking exam shows you need a bit of help with pronunciation so we'll do a quick lunchtime session for 3 kids)) and also told the person in charge of data that I wouldn't be able to meet their deadlines for the extra classes that I don't actually teach.

    Covering my tutor group sounds like a brilliant idea. That extra 15 mins would really help me get the cover work ready for the day. One of the absent staff had no tutor group (HoY) and the other shared with a TA 2 days per week, so less cover is needed at those times anyway. It's harder to find times when others had non-contacts and I do not, because we tend to all have non-contacts at the same time. But there are probably one or two. A member of SLT did say on the last day of term that they'd give me cover to do the data/assessment side of things after half-term.

    Thanks for your reply. I think it's partly the shock to the system because my department has been one of the strongest in the school and a very close-knit team for the past few years. We've not been coping with absent/non-existent staff, so have always been able to prioritise planning good lessons, creating resources etc.

    So many of our kids are having a really rubbish experience of their education, with half of their lessons in a given day being cover lessons across different subjects. We already came up with a plan for the teacherless groups whereby either myself or my part-time colleague sends the cover teacher to our class once per week and we go to teach a proper lesson to the other group (so that group gets us 1x per week and our groups get us 2x per week). Actually reduces workload slightly as I can teach the other group a lesson I already did with my class, and set cover work I already set the cover group to mine. But still a big headache.

    I've had a good weekend with friends and managed to take my mind off work, so feeling a lot better. But want to make sure I'm equipped for the new term, especially as it's such a long one.
    Fluffy_Koala likes this.

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