This is the second article in a two part series on relief teachers. In this series, Craig D’cruz explores the legal obligations of schools regarding the induction programs used for relief teachers. Craig examines how some schools currently tackle this issue and why their approaches may or may not be sufficient.
There seems to be an underlying assumption made by some schools that relief teachers know how to behave and how to manage and care for children (simply by being a teacher), albeit whilst delivering content in a subject area and in a school environment that may be totally foreign to them. In order to ensure that relief teachers meet the expectations of the school, there must be a structured method to deliver this information to them.
As a broad summary, relief teachers are generally expected to:
- know their lesson content well;
- follow the lesson plans as set by the class teacher;
- prepare lessons if the class teacher has failed to do so;
- provide homework where requested by the class teacher and follow up on the homework;
- participate in and contribute to school activities such as excursions, sports carnivals, assemblies, church services and so forth;
- perform any rostered playground duty;
- provide proper and adequate supervision; and
- ensure the safety and wellbeing of students.
Schools have formal induction programs for new staff and volunteers because they know that there are high risk factors associated with the employment of staff and engagement of volunteers- including specific legislation relating to child protection.
Schools know that newly appointed staff and volunteers (such as new board members) need to be inducted into the school and need to have a clear understanding of their rights, obligations and responsibilities – particularly teachers with their duty of care to students. Relief teachers are given the same levels of responsibilities on a day-to-day basis regarding their duty of care to the children in the classes allocated to them so why is there little evidence of formal induction programmes?
It can be argued, and it often is, that schools simply do not have the time to engage relief teachers in formal induction programmes on the day of employment. This is very true. However, if managed with the risks associated with untried and unknown teachers in mind, schools may need to rethink how they employ relief teachers and how they train them to comply with the school’s expectations of all teaching staff.
Whether they are a casual, part time or full time teacher, they are still a member of the school staff and the expectations of the school with regards to their responsibilities for the teaching and the care of the students in their care should be no less.
So, what could schools be doing to reduce the risk associated with the ad hoc employment of relief teachers? Some suggestions are listed below.
- Develop their own policy in line with the school’s ethos and values.
- If the school is employing relief teachers of their own choosing and not using a relief teacher employment agency, they should advertise for and screen possible applicants as they would do with any teacher. This ensures that possible relief teachers are registered to teach in the State, have a valid WWC Card and, with a quality ‘curriculum vitae’ and are able to be deployed into classes/subject areas where their expertise is best suited. This may be essential for teachers in early learning classes that have requirements under the National Quality Standards (NQS).
- If they are engaging the services of a relief teacher employment agency, schools can still insist on a level of web-based induction that any prospective teachers from the preferred company must complete before they can be assigned to any employment at the school.
- Relief teachers, if accepted by the school for possible casual employment, should be required to complete a formal induction process with an offsite and an onsite component as may be applicable.
- The induction process should be the same as that given to new permanent employees- perhaps managed to take place in one morning or afternoon.
- The process would usually begin with the interview for employment, conducted by the Principal or delegate, and then continue with the school ethos and mission, child protection requirements, training in school specific OHS/WHS issues and so forth.
- Appointment of a mentor – usually this is given to the Head of School, Head of Department or Head of Learning Area or occasionally to a Senior or Lead Teacher. As with any staff induction, having a mentor on staff provides a direct communication link for the relief teacher should he or she have any urgent or pressing queries. Sometimes due to the sheer business of the school day, the Principal or Deputy Principal may simply be unavailable to be that link.
- Relief teachers, even if the school does not wish to provide a formal written contract of employment, should be required to agree to and sign a statement regarding their employment at the school with the base conditions of the employment and expectations of the school clearly defined and agreed to with a sign off.
- Relief teachers, either with or without pay (at school discretion) should be encouraged to join the school staff on professional development (PD) days and for professional development programmes. This encourages them to develop relationships within the general staff body and can assist them to maintain the required PD hours for ongoing registration standards. In addition, it further reinforces the school ethos and the specific requirements of the principal and leadership team. It gives them a ‘big picture’ perspective of the school.
All schools place the education and care of children as their central focus. They have child protection policies, staff codes of conduct, curriculum plans and a raft of other policies and procedures that are designed to ensure that their duty of care for their students is never compromised.
So why would a school employ a relief teacher, even in an emergency, who has not been thoroughly checked and inducted?