No supply pool to fill in for absent teachers

Pupils at girls' schools with absent teachers are folded into other classes or left unattended.

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ABU DHABI // Teacher absences have become a top concern for state girls' schools, a situation made worse by an apparent lack of trained professionals available to fill in for them. The problem was discussed at a meeting of Ministry of Education officials this week. The officials decided to form a committee to address the issue, but provided no indication of what may be done to help schools that have been grappling with the problem. No official figures have been released that would show the extent of teacher absences in girls' schools. According to a source at a state school, Abu Dhabi has no pool of supply teachers to fill in the gap. Supply, or substitute, teachers are those who have been trained to be on call and step in when teachers fall ill or have to be absent from work for other reasons. Instead, pupils in classes where instructors are absent are sometimes folded into other teachers' classes. In some cases, they go unattended. "It's a problem in some schools, and in other schools it's not so much an issue, but where it is an issue it is usually a pretty big one," the source said. The source added that the problem seems to be most acute in girls' schools, where up to 25 per cent of the teaching staff have been known to be absent on a given day. "There is nobody to cover those classes and depending on the circumstance you might have a large percentage of teachers away and no relief pool outside of the school to draw on, making it very difficult to continue quality instuction." Tina Hathorn, a principal adviser in two state schools, said lost instructional time was a major issue that had an impact on learning outcomes and overall school success. "It's extremely disruptive," said Ms Hathorn. "When there are people absent, then classes may go uncovered because there is not a teacher available." It would be helpful, she said, if the emirate introduced a network of supply teachers who could be prepared to fill in. "If a teacher is absent then they just put someone in and the students are not learning," she said. "There is a lot of lost instructional time. If there is a substitute teacher then she is teaching the lesson that the teacher left." The discussion of teacher absences came less than a week after the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai released test scores that showed pupils performed below average in maths and science in relation to 59 other countries that participated in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. At the meeting this week, ministry officials and educational zone directors also discussed preparations for the upcoming academic year including hiring, school repairs and introducing new textbooks. The officials also addressed the Ministry's strategy to give schools greater financial and administrative independence; replace computers over five years old in schools; and rehabilitate old school buildings that lack basic amenities such as central air conditioning or a gymnasium.