The Wales Audit Office and inspectorate Estyn have found that just under one in 10 lessons is now covered by staff who are not the usual class teacher.
In two reports issued this week, they claim that schools’ cover policies do not provide the best use of resources.
The Welsh Audit Office found that maintained schools in Wales spent an estimated £54 million on classroom supply cover in 2011/12 – an increase of seven per cent since 2008/09. Reasons included teachers’ sickness, training and attendance at meetings.
Meanwhile, Estyn concludes that learners make less progress when their usual class teacher is absent and their behaviour is often worse.
It adds: “Teaching by supply staff not employed by the school is often less effective because these staff do not know enough about the needs of the pupils they teach. The pace of lessons can also be slow and expectations too low.
“In secondary schools, the impact of teachers’ absence can be greater. The work set is often too undemanding and does not engage learners. Eleven to 14-year-olds are more likely to have their learning disrupted because schools make an effort to secure better cover arrangements for examination classes.”
The research is based on visits to 23 primary and secondary schools as well as surveys, interviews and data analysis.
The Welsh Audit Office contends that a better management and monitoring of sickness absence could reduce teachers’ absence to match levels in England – which would see 60,000 fewer days of cover and save £9 million a year.
The reports urge schools, local authorities and the Welsh government to “do more to monitor the extent of cover, the quality of covered lessons and the impact on pupils”. Schools should focus on “improving the quality of teaching and learning in covered lessons by making sure that work is set at an appropriate level”.
Auditor general for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas, said: “To use supply cover efficiently and effectively schools need to better understand the causes of teacher absence and to develop more effective cover arrangements. These actions will not only save schools money but also have a positive impact on pupil attainment.”
Chief inspector Ann Keane added: “It is vital that the impact of teacher absence is tackled to make sure that the standard of education young people receive is consistently challenging so that no pupils are put at a disadvantage when their classes are covered by a supply teacher.”
The Estyn report, The Impact of Teacher Absence, is available at www.estyn.gov.uk and the Welsh Audit Officer report, Covering Teachers’ Absence, is at www.wao.gov.uk