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Chris McGovern: Admit it, sharing teachers is bad for the child


Do primary school pupils benefit when two teachers ‘job share’ their class? Traditionally, a class is assigned to just one teacher for the year and will be taught most lessons by that teacher. Job sharing means that two or three days into each week the teachers switch or two teachers may alternate from day to day.

With a growing crisis in teacher recruitment, it looks as though this arrangement will become more usual. The Department for Education is becoming increasingly well disposed towards part-time teachers sharing a class. Its website carries a regular blog from teachers addressing a range of issues such as training, recruitment and ‘workload challenge’. Under the latter category a recent blog was headed: ‘Flexible working: Putting our pupils at the heart of our flexible working policy’. The DfE-approved author of the blog is the CEO of Hearts Academy Trust which runs six primary schools in Essex.

It is not difficult to see an obvious advantage of having one’s child taught as part of a job share if the alternative is a sub-standard teacher for five days. If the consequence of a job share is, however, the loss of a good teacher for half the week, then its benefits are less clear.

The blog published by the DfE is intended to offer reassurance. We are informed that job sharing means ‘flexibility’, and ‘flexibility’, of course, is a really good thing. Furthermore, its implementation is founded on this reassurance: ‘Pupil achievement and well-being comes first in every application for flexible working’. It adds that ‘flexible working’ is ‘an opportunity to do things differently, improve outcomes and improve working conditions for staff’.

The downside of young children being taught by a different part-time class teacher on different days is not mentioned. The pupil-teacher relationship and, indeed, bonding, so crucial at this early stage of schooling, can be thrown into a state of confusion. Younger pupils invariably crave the recognisable, the familiar and the routine. They tend to be remarkably conservative and are inclined to loathe even the arrival of a one-day supply teacher. For infants, in particular, being at the receiving end of a job share can be disorienting and confusing.

The re-defining of job sharing as ‘flexibility’, and the claim that it will ‘improve outcomes’, is disingenuous. Even at secondary school it can be undesirable, not least because of the constraints it places on the whole school timetable. And who wants their children to be taught any GCSE subject by more than one teacher? Only at A-level does syllabus breadth make a two-teacher approach appropriate.

Sometimes, job sharing may be the only viable way forward for a school struggling to recruit teachers. It may even work in favour of children if it mitigates the impact of poor teaching. In most cases, however, especially for young children, it is undesirable and potentially damaging.

Most schools impress on children the importance of honesty. It is time for some of them to practise what they preach. If job sharing happens to be making the best of a difficult situation, they need to admit this to parents. The real villain of the piece, though, is the DfE. Hiding behind its website teaching blog it is actively promoting a dishonest cover-up of a recruitment crisis.

What next – 15 per cent qualifying as a ‘good pass’ in GCSE maths? No, that fraud has already been perpetrated.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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